B.B. King - Impressive Facts You Didn't Know

B.B. King – 28 Impressive Facts You Didn’t Know

B.B King was born on September 16th 1925 and died on May 14th 2015. He was an American blues singer/songwriter, producer and guitarist. Most famous for his string bending technique, vibrato and picking style that influenced many later blues guitarists.

He was given the nickname “The King of the Blues” by his peers and is considered to be one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar” (along with Freddie King and Albert King even though none of them were related).

Those are facts you probably already knew about the great blues artist B.B King, keep reading for 28 impressive facts you didn’t know.

He Had A Lot Of Respect Within The Music World

He was named as “the single most important electric guitarist of the last half of the 20th century” by the online music database AllMusic.

He Got The Title B.B From His Time As A DJ

When he was quite young, Riley B. King worked at WDIA as a singer and DJ. It was while working here that he got the nickname “Beale Street Blues Boy” which was later shortened to “Blues Boy” and eventually just “B.B.”

He Had A 12 Year Old Joe Bonamassa Open Some Of His Shows

When B.B King heard the `12 year old Joe Bonamassa play guitar he had him open around 20 shows in 1989. King said of 12 year old Joe;

This kid’s potential is unbelievable. He hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface. He’s one of a kind.

B.B King

He learned To Play Guitar At Church

As a youngster, Riley B. King sang in a gospel choir at Elkhorn Baptist Church in Kilmichael, Mississippi. The minister played a Sears Roebuck Silvertone guitar during services and taught Riley B. King his first three chords.

His Boss Bought Him His First Guitar

King’s first guitar was paid for by Flake Cartledge, his employer in Kilmichael for $15. Mr. Cartledge kept money back from King’s wages for the next few months until the debt was repaid.

He Rushed Into A Burning Building To Save His Guitar

During the mid 1950s, B.B. King was performing at a dance in Twist, Arkansas when a fight broke out. One of the fighters knocked over an oil heater which set the building on fire. Everyone rushed out of the burning building including B.B King.

He then remembered he’d left his guitar inside so he rushed back into the burning building to save his guitar. He located the guitar and rushed back out of the burning building narrowly avoiding death.

SEE ALSO: What Guitar Does BB King Use?

He Named His Guitar After A Waitress

Some time after the fire, he learned that the two men were fighting over a waitress named Lucille. He decided to name his guitar “Lucille” to remind him to never fight over a woman. From that day on every one of his Gibson guitars has been called “Lucille”.

He Opened The Show For The Rolling Stones

In 1969 B.B. King opened 18 shows for the Rolling Stones as part of their American tour.

SEE ALSO: Rolling Stones Albums Ranked (rated from worst to best)

He Knew Elvis Presley Before He Was Famous

B.B King said he worked for a company that allowed him to record at Sun Studios and Elvis would often be there practising. B.B King said,

Elvis was very shy when I first met him (at) Sun Studios in Memphis. Dewey Phillips was the disc jockey, and his brother Sam Phillips owned the station. So I used to go out to the studio, and my company that I worked for at the time would always contract Mr. Phillips to let us in anytime that we had something to record, and usually Elvis would be there practicing, a lot of times. At that time, he was a handsome guy, good-looking, but I didn’t think too much about his playing or singing, I mean he was okay, but I didn’t see at that time what I saw later on.

B.B. King

SEE ALSO: Interesting Facts About Elvis Presley

He Released His First Single In 1949

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXYMqjVSTvQ

B.B King’s debut single was titled “Miss Martha King” and was released in 1949 on the Bullet Records label. It was about his then wife, Martha. He said of the record,

My very first recordings were for a company out of Nashville called Bullet, the Bullet Record Transcription company, I had horns that very first session. I had Phineas Newborn on piano; his father played drums, and his brother, Calvin, played guitar with me. I had Tuff Green on bass, Ben Branch on tenor sax, his brother, Thomas, on trumpet, and a lady trombone player. The Newborn family were the house band at the famous Plantation Inn in West Memphis.

B.B King

He Got His First Number One Hit Song In 1952

B.B. King’s first number one hit song on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues chart was “3 O’Clock Blues” which got to number one in February 1952. This led to him becoming one of the most important names in the R & B scene in the 1950s.

As a result of hits including; “You Know You Love Me”, “Woke Up This Morning”, “Whole Lotta Love”, and “Every Day I Have The Blues”. This led to him getting a massive wage increase as well. He went from $85 per week to $2500 per week.

He Had His Own Record Label

In 1956, B.B. King founded his own record label. Called Blues Boys Kingdom they were based at 164 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee. B.B produced artists such as Millard Lee, The Five Stars and Levi Seabury.

He Had A Hit That Was A Pop Crossover

In 1970 B.B. King won a Grammy Award for his cover version of the song “The Thrill Is Gone” which was a hit on the R&B chart as well as a hit on the Pop chart.

He Was Inducted Into 3 Halls Of Fame

In 1980 B.B King was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame, then in 1987 he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. In 2014 he was inducted into the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.

Also in 2004 he was awarded the International Polar Music Prize which is given to artists “in recognition of exceptional achievements in the creation and advancement of music”.

He also received a total of 15 Grammy Awards

He Gave The Pope A Guitar

In December 1997, he performed in the Vatican’s 5th annual Christmas concert and presented one of his “Lucille” guitars to Pope John Paul II.

He Was In The Blues Brothers 2000 Film

In 1998 B.B King appeared in the movie sequel “Blues Brothers 2000”. He played the part of the lead singer of the “Louisiana Gator Boys” along with Bo Diddley, Dr. John, Koko Taylor and Eric Clapton.

He Made An Album With Eric Clapton

In 2000 he recorded an album with Eric Clapton entitled “Riding With The King”. The album won the 2001 Grammy Award for the Best Traditional Blues Album.

The album peaked at number one on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart and number 3 on the Billboard 200 chart.

SEE ALSO: What Guitar Does Eric Clapton Use?

He Crashed A Tractor

B.B. King worked on a farm driving a tractor and on Friday nights he used to go dancing. He said he turned off the ignition on the tractor and jumped off and started running to get home and changed. The tractor somehow started up and crashed, King said he kept running and stayed away for 6 months.

But he eventually went back and got his old job back and paid for the damages weekly out of his wages.

He Played At The White House

On February 21st 2012,  B.B King was one of the performers of “In Performance At The White House: Red, White And Blue”.  During this performance, President Barack Obama sang part of “Sweet Home Chicago”.

Other artists who performed at this same show were;

  • Mick Jagger
  • Booker T. Jones
  • Buddy Guy
  • Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews
  • Jeff Beck
  • Derek Trucks
  • Gary Clark Jr.
  • Susan Tedeschi
  • Shemekia Copeland

He Is Said To Have 15 Children

B.B King was married twice, his first marriage to Martha Lee Denton lasted from November 1946 until 1952. His second, to Sue Carol Hall lasted from 1958 until 1966. Neither of these marriages produced any children, but it has been reported that he fathered 15 children with different mothers.

He Was A Pilot

B.B King learned to fly in 1963 at the Chicago Hammond Airport (now known as Lansing Municipal Airport) in Lansing, Illinois. He became a FAA-Certified private pilot. He often flew to concerts but in 1995 his insurance company and manager asked him to fly only with another certified pilot. This led to him giving up flying when he was around the age of 70.

His Favourite Singer was Frank Sinatra

B.B King said that he was a “Sinatra Nut” and that he went to bed every night listening to Sinatra’s album “In The Wee Small Hours”. In the 1960s Sinatra arranged for King to perform at the main clubs in Las Vegas. King said that Sinatra opened doors for black performers who had never been given the chance to play in “white dominated” venues.

SEE ALSO: Artists Like Frank Sinatra (similar music you’re guaranteed to love!)

He Was In Commercials To Fight Diabetes

B.B King was diagnosed with diabetes in 1990, he then became a spokesman in the fight against the disease. He appeared in a number of TV commercials for One Touch Ultra, which was a blood glucose monitoring device.

He Told Billy Gibbons To Change His Strings

When B.B. King met ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, he asked if he could play his guitar. B.B played Billy’s guitar for a while and then he asked him what gauge strings do you use? Gibbons said heavy gauge and King said why you working so hard? I use light gauge strings. 

Billy Gibbons swapped his strings that same day and has never gone back to heavy gauge strings.

SEE ALSO: What Guitar Does Billy Gibbons Use?

He Recorded An Album In Jail

On September 10th 1970 B.B King performed in front of 2,117 prison inmates at Cook County Jail in Chicago. The jail warden Winstone Moore requested King to perform there and King’s record company advised him to record it and take the press with him.

The subsequent album “Live In Cook County Jail” spent 33 weeks on the Billboard Top LPs chart and peaked at number 25. It also peaked at number one on the Top R&B chart.

Saddened by what he saw at the prison, King offered his services for free to not only Cook County Jail but to other prisons willing to have him perform. By 1998 he had performed at more than 50 prisons and established the Foundation for the Advancement of Inmate Rehabilitation and Recreation with F. Lee Bailey (attorney).

He Has Collaborated With Many Famous Artists

B.B King has worked with many great artists including;

  • Eric Clapton
  • Elton John
  • Sheryl Crow
  • Van Morrison
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Slash
  • Eddie Van Halen
  • Jeff Beck
  • John Mayer
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • Buddy Guy
  • Robert Cray
  • David Gilmour
  • Gary Moore
  • Derek Trucks
  • Susan Tedeschi
  • U2
  • And Many More

He Appeared On Several TV Shows

B.B King made guest appearances on many TV shows including; The Cosby Show, The Young And The Restless, The Tonight Show, The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, General Hospital, Touched By An Angel, Married…With Children, Sanford And Son and Sesame Street.

He Had A Feature Length Documentary Made About Him That Was Narrated By Morgan Freeman

On October 15th 2012 there was a feature length documentary released about B. B King. It was called “B.B. King: The Life Of Riley” and was narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Do You Know Any More Impressive Facts About B.B. King?

That’s our 28 impressive facts about B.B. King, do you know any more? We’d love to hear them, please let us know in the comments below.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the name of B.B. King’s famous guitar?

B.B. King’s famous guitar is called “Lucille” he said he named it after a waitress who worked in a bar where he was playing and two men started fighting over her and knocked over an oil fire which set fire to the bar. He said he rushed back into the burning building to rescue his guitar and named it after the women to remind him to never do anything like that again.

What was the title of B.B. King’s debut single?

B.B. King’s debut single was called “Miss Martha King” which was released in 1949 and named after his first wife.

How many children is B.B. King reported to have fathered?

It is reported that B.B.King fathered 15 children by a number of women.

Which make of guitar did B.B. King famously play for over 40 years?

B.B. King famously played Gibson guitars for over 40 years, predominantly the Gibson ES-355.

Which famous guitarist dueted with B.B. King on the album “Riding With The King”?

The famous guitarist that dueted with B.B. King on the album “Riding With The King” is Eric Clapton. The album won the 2001 Grammy Award for the Best Traditional Blues Album and peaked at number one on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart and number 3 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Which American President sang at the White House while B.B. King and others played “Sweet Home Chicago”?

The American President that sang at the White House while B.B. King and others played “Sweet Home Chicago” was Barack Obama. The event which was called “In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues” took place on February 21st 2012.

Which famous rock band did B.B. King open for in 1969 on their American Tour?

The famous rock band B.B. King opened for in 1969 on their American Tour was The Rolling Stones.

What does B.B stand for in B.B. King’s name?

The B.B in B.B King’s name stands for “Blues Boy” which was a nickname he picked up in his youth when he worked at a radio station.

Was B.B King in the movie Blues Brothers 2000?

B.B King played the part of the lead singer of the “Louisiana Gator Boys” along with Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Koko Taylor and Bo Diddley in the movie “Blues Brothers 2000”.

What was the title of B.B King’s highest charting album on the Billboard 200 chart?

B.B. King’s highest charting album on the Billboard 200 chart is “Riding With The King” which featured B.B. King and Eric Clapton.

Which B.B. King song topped the rhythm & blues chart for 15 weeks in 1951?

The B.B. King song that topped the rhythm & blues chart for 15 weeks in 1951 was “3 O’Clock Blues”.

What B.B King song contains the lines “I gave you a brand-new Ford. you said I want a Cadillac, I bought you a ten dollar dinner, you said thanks for the snack”?

The B.B King song that contains the lines “I gave you a brand-new Ford. you said I want a Cadillac, I bought you a ten dollar dinner, you said thanks for the snack” is “How Blue Can You Get”which was taken from the album “Blues In My Heart”.

Who was B.B King’s favourite singer?

B.B. King’s favourite singer was Frank Sinatra. He once said he was a “Sinatra nut”.

Did B.B. King gave Pope John Paul II a guitar?

B.B. King performed in the Vatican’s 5th annual Christmas concert and presented Pope John Paul II one of his “Lucille” guitars.

What Is B.B. King’s first name?

B.B King’s first name is Riley. His full name is Riley B. King.

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