BB King: A Life Retrospective + Cool Moments

The life of a legend.

Ultimate Guitar

As widely reported around the guitar realm, guitar icon BB King has passed away on May 14 at the age of 89.

Gone but never forgotten, BB will forever be remembered as one of the ultimate musical giants.

To honor the king, here's a brief retrospective with some of the important moments of his career and life plus interesting facts.

September 16, 1925 - Legend is born

BB King came to this world as Riley B. King on September 16, 1925 on a cotton plantation called Berclair in Mississippi.

1937 - First guitar

Around the age of 12, BB got his first guitar. Some say that the six-string was given to him by Bukka White, while other note that he bought it for $15. Either way, the guitar journey had begun.

1949 - First Record Deal + First Single

Around the age of 24, BB began recording songs under contract with RPM Records in LA. Prior to the first big label deal, King released his very first single "Miss Martha King" via Bullet Records.

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1952 - First Chart-Topper

In 1952, BB recorded Lowell Fulson's song "3 O'Clock Blues," which became his very first song to reach the No. 1 spot on the charts, topping the US R&B chart.

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Back in the '50s, BB was performing in Twist, Arkansas when a fire broke out, caused by two guys brawling. BB evacuated the building instantly, but still jumped back to save his guitar. He later learned that the guys fought over a girl named Lucille. As a reminder to himself to never ever fight over women, he named the guitar after that gal - Lucille.

"Lucille got her name in a nothing town by the name of Twist, Arkansas. We were playing some club, and some guys were fightin' and they knocked over a kerosene barrel and burned the place down. I almost got killed going back in to save my guitar, and when I found out the fight was over a gal named Lucille, I named my guitar that to tell me to keep her close and treat her right," BB said.


1956 - BB Performs 342 Concerts Within One Year

BB King will remain known for his relentless touring schedules, but the year of 1956 remains as the record-breaking one. Within 12 months, BB performed a whopping total of 342 shows, and even found time to squeeze in three recording sessions.

1964 - Live at the Regal

In the words of Eric Clapton, "Live at the Regal" concert album is the record that you should use as an introduction to BB's music. "It is where it all started for me as a young player," Clapton noted.

BB said about the show: "That particular day in Chicago everything came together."

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1970 - The Thrill Is Gone

Arguably BB's most famous song, "The Thrill Is Gone," was released in 1970. The tune was written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951.

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BB Had 15 Children and 50 Grandchildren

With 300 shows per year, BB also did his share of gambling and chasing women. He claims that he fathered 15 children, and as of 2004, it is reported that Mr. King has as much as 50 grandchildren.

BB Was a Certified Pilot

When Bruce Dickinson was 5, BB was already flying. He got his license as an FAA certificated private pilot in 1963, and often flew to gigs by himself. He kept doing it for quite some time, but ultimately stopped around the age of 70.

BB Loved Sinatra

Describing himself as a "Sinatra nut," BB was a great fan of legendary Frank Sinatra, saying that not only did he go to bed every night listening to Frank's classic record "In the Wee Small Hours," but also crediting the vocalist for opening doors to black entertainers who weren't given a chance to play in "white-dominated" venues.

14 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Great article. could be a little longer. it is always nice to read those kind of things.
    Still doesn't seem real that he's gone. It's like there's an emptiness that I can't seem to shake. RIP Mr.King
    Still keeping an eye out for any news about what's going to happen to Lucille.....
    It will be the Ferrari 250 GTO of guitars: the most valuable guitar in the world, never to be played again.
    Thank you, those were some nice and interesting facts. But who the hell keeps a kerosene barrell in a club?
    What does Bruce Dickenson have anything to do with this?
    Bruce Dickinson has a pilots license and regularly flies to gigs. BB King had a pilots license and regularly flew to gigs. That's the link. The in-joke is that Bruce's flying skills are a common reference on UG.