An 88th Birthday Tribute To B.B. King

(Gibson) For B.B. King the thrill is far from gone. Today, September 16, Lucille's pappy and the most influential figure in electric blues will celebrate his 88th birthday during a rare gap in touring, which he'll start up again on October 4 with a concert in Prior Lake, Minnesota. At this point King is, for many people, the living definition of blues, and he's certainly a walking encyclopedia of licks and lore going way back to his days as a poor orphan on a Mississippi farm in the 1930s.

In recent decades King's albums have been starry affairs like the platinum-selling, Grammy winning collaboration with Eric Clapton Riding With the King, 2005's birthday blues party with Billy Gibbons, Clapton, Bobby Bland, John Mayer, Roger Daltrey and Gloria Estefan called B.B King and Friends: 80, and the deeply rooted One Kind Favor, made with celebrity producer T-Bone Burnett.

Most listeners associate King with his 1970 break-though hit "The Thrill Is Gone," but King has been making recordings since 1949 and developed most of his repertoire, vocal phrasing and licks in the first 15 years of his career.

He's a look at 10 early King recordings that were signposts of his development during those formative years. "Miss Martha King": B.B.'s first single was an ode to his wife, relying more on his soaring vocals than his stinging, vibrato drenched licks. It was cut in 1949 at Memphis radio station WDIA, where King was also a DJ. Publicity photos from this period show King embracing a single coil guitar, so he'd yet to discover his patented rich, ringing Gibson tone as well.

"Three O'Clock Blues": King's first hit was cut at the Memphis WMCA and released in 1950. It represents a major leap for King. The song, while strictly adhering to a 12 bar form, shows terrific development in his playing under the influence of T-Bone Walker. King was transitioning to hollow body guitars at this point, and would soon be famously photographed onstage in a suit with short pants brandishing a Gibson Switchmaster. His solo on "Three O'Clock Blues" is terrific, blending staccato and fluid licks with a biting tone that captures the want in the line, "Please forgive me for all my sins." more.

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