The history of B.B. King's Lucille guitars

Tuesday, November 14, 2023
B.B. King, born Riley B. King in 1925, stands as a monumental figure in blues music, often revered as "The King of the Blues."

His career, spanning over half a century, profoundly influenced the genre through his distinctive guitar playing and soulful voice. King's approach to the electric guitar, marked by fluid string bends and shimmering vibrato, brought a unique voice to blues music, inspiring countless guitarists across genres.
His legacy lies not just in the technical mastery of his music but in the raw emotion and narrative quality he infused into it, epitomizing the essence of the blues as a story of life's struggles and joys.

His popular songs like "The Thrill is Gone," "Lucille," and "Rock Me Baby," as well as his legendary records such as "Live at the Regal" and "Riding with the King," stand testament to his extraordinary influence in the world of music.

bb king history of Lucille guitars

Origin of the 'Lucille'

The tale of how B.B. King's guitar came to be known as Lucille is as much a part of blues folklore as the music itself. It roots King's relationship with his guitar in a narrative of survival, passion, and transformation, setting the stage for a deeper exploration of this iconic instrument's history.

The story of Lucille begins on a cold winter night in 1949 in a dance hall in Twist, Arkansas. During a performance, two men ignited a fire by knocking over a kerosene stove while fighting. King, having fled outside, realized he had left his beloved guitar inside. He risked his life to retrieve it. This event was not only a pivotal moment in King's life but also marked the christening of his guitars as Lucille.

The legend has it King learned that the two men who started the fire had been fighting over a woman who worked at the hall named Lucille. King had not met Lucille but named that guitar, and every guitar he subsequently owned, Lucille, as a reminder never again to do something as stupid as run into a burning building or fight over a woman...

Naming his guitars Lucille thus bore a deeper significance for King. It served as a cautionary tale against violence and recklessness, encapsulating a moment of revelation about life's priorities. Lucille became more than an instrument; it was a life lesson and a partner, accompanying him through his journey in blues.

Evolution of the Lucille Guitar Model

Before Lucille became synonymous with the Gibson guitars, B.B. King played on a variety of models. His early career saw him using different brands, each contributing to the development of his unique sound. These guitars, although not yet bearing the Lucille moniker, were instrumental in King's formative years as a blues artist.

The partnership between B.B. King and Gibson is a landmark in the history of electric guitars. This collaboration was born out of King's search for a guitar that could meet his specific needs as a musician and resulted in the creation of a signature model that embodied his ideals for sound, playability, and aesthetics.

The Gibson Lucille models are a testament to King's pursuit of a particular sound and feel in his instrument. These guitars were custom-designed to suit his playing style, featuring unique specifications like a semi-hollow body without f-holes, to reduce feedback, and specific electronic configurations for a versatile and rich blues tone. The design and specifications of Lucille reflect not just technical requirements but also King's personal journey in music.

Lucille's unique characteristics significantly shaped B.B. King's musical style and sound. The guitar's design, particularly the semi-hollow body and the custom electronics, enabled King to produce his trademark luscious, sustained notes and expressive vibratos.

Famous Gigs with the King

B.B. King's live performances were legendary, not just for his unparalleled skill as a guitarist, but for the sheer emotional power and soul he brought to every stage. Here are some of his most memorable live guitar performances:

Live at the Regal (1964): This performance at the Regal Theater in Chicago is often hailed as one of the greatest blues albums of all time. King's interaction with the audience and his dynamic playing style set a new standard for live blues recordings.

Live in Cook County Jail (1970): This concert, performed for inmates at Cook County Jail in Chicago, is renowned for its raw energy and emotional intensity. King's performance of classics like "The Thrill Is Gone" and "Every Day I Have the Blues" resonated deeply with the audience.

The Blues Summit Concert (1993): This concert featured King alongside other blues legends like Buddy Guy, Ruth Brown, and Albert Collins. His performance here, particularly in duets, showcased his ability to blend styles with other artists while maintaining his unique sound.

Live at San Quentin (1990): Similar to his Cook County Jail performance, this live album captured King playing at San Quentin State Prison. His performances were a mix of storytelling and soulful guitar playing, creating a deep connection with the audience.

Lucille as a Cultural Icon

Lucille transcended its role as a mere musical instrument to become a symbol in the blues genre. This section will explore how Lucille represented the essence of the blues – its emotion, storytelling, and resilience. The guitar became synonymous with King's journey and, by extension, the journey of the blues itself, reflecting the genre's rich history and cultural significance.

In 1997, during a momentous Christmas concert at the Vatican, B.B. King, a blues legend and a global ambassador of music, had the honor of meeting Pope John Paul II. In a profound gesture that symbolized the unifying power of music across cultural and religious divides, King presented one of his cherished Lucille guitars to the Pope. This act was not merely a gift but a powerful symbol of King’s deep connection to his music and an offering of his life's passion. The presentation of Lucille to the Pope underscored the universal appeal of music, King's reverence for spiritual leadership, and the significant role of Lucille as an extension of King's identity and legacy. This event encapsulated Lucille’s transcendence beyond the realm of blues, highlighting its status as a beacon of artistic expression, unity, and peace, further enriching the guitar’s profound legacy in global cultural and spiritual contexts.

About that song with U2..

"Love Comes to Town" is a collaborative track between B.B. King and the Irish rock band U2, featured on U2's 1988 album, "Rattle and Hum." This song stands as a notable intersection between blues and rock, showcasing the blend of two distinct musical styles and eras.

The song opens with a distinct, jangling guitar riff characteristic of U2's The Edge, setting a rhythmic, rock-infused tone. B.B. King's entrance is marked by his signature soulful electric blues guitar licks, adding a layer of depth and emotion to the track. The blend of The Edge's rhythmic playing and King's expressive, fluid blues solos creates a compelling musical dialogue, illustrating the versatility and adaptability of blues within different musical contexts.

Bono's vocals, passionate and gritty, carry the verses with a sense of urgency and introspection. When King joins in, there's a noticeable shift; his voice, rich and textured with experience, adds a different dimension to the song's narrative. The contrast between Bono's youthful energy and King's seasoned timbre makes for a dynamic vocal interplay, highlighting the song's theme of introspective journeying and the transformative power of love.

Lyrically, "When Love Comes to Town" navigates themes of redemption, love, and personal transformation. The lyrics are introspective, reflective of a journey from darkness to light, a common motif in both blues and rock. King's contribution to the lyrics brings in elements of the blues narrative – life's struggles, mistakes, and the redemptive power of love.

The collaboration was significant for bringing together two generations of musicians, symbolizing a bridging of the gap between classic blues and contemporary rock. For U2, working with a blues legend like King was an opportunity to connect with the roots of rock music. For King, it was a chance to introduce his art to a younger, more diverse audience. The song received widespread acclaim and introduced King's music to a new generation of listeners, underlining the timeless and universal appeal of the blues.
Powered by Blogger.

Search This Blog

Blog Archive

Back to Top