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B.B. King Profile

a portrait of an American legend

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Born in Itta Bena, on September 16, 1925, Riley B. King (official site) certainly learned what the blues were all about early in life; spending much of his childhood working as a sharecropper. A rather hardspent childhood prevented King from concentrating on the guitar until he was in his very late teens.

By 1949, King had began to make his mark in the blues world, recording numerous sides for several small blues labels. Most of the music King recorded during this early period in his career, however, leaned more towards the more popular "rhythm and blues" style of music. It wasn't until well into the 1950's that King really became noted for his guitar work.

The name B.B. King (B.B. being short for "Blues Boy"; a nickname he got during his work as a dj on blues radio in the 1940's) evokes several distinct images to fans; many immediately think of Lucille, the trademark Gibson guitar of the veteran blues guitarist. Many guitarists will often think of King's patented "trill-like" vibrato, which gives the guitarist a sound that is instantly recognizable and singular. What has always intrigued me most, though, about B.B. King, is his use of space in his guitar solos. King never feels a need to flood his music with notes - rather, he concentrates on playing a few choice notes, and enhances them with different techniques (like vibrato, string bending, etc.) to create an approach that in many ways approximates the human voice.

Those not familiar with B.B. King's style may want to take a listen to "Worry, Worry", in a live recording from the classic album "Live in Cook County Jail." For guitarists wishing to learn something about the way King approaches blues guitar playing, you can begin to learn to play like B.B. King via the lessons found on this site.

For still more insight into the guitarist's style, King has created the B.B. King Blues Master instructional DVD, complete with over three and a half hours of interview footage of the guitarist demonstrating his guitar techniques.

If you've never seen King live, do yourself a favor, and make a point of getting out to see him play. Chances are, he will be visiting your area sometime fairly soon. A musician who has almost literally spent his entire life on the road, King has slowed in recent years, but often still plays over 100 concerts all across the world every year. For more information on King's upcoming touring schedule, check the tour schedule on B.B. King's official web site. But, hurry up and do it soon - who knows how long it will be before B.B. finally decides that he's had enough of the road, and settles into a well-deserved retirement.

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