Keeping the blues alive and well

In search of B.B. King’s guitar tone

We all know and love the three kings but if there is one that every guitar player wants to mimic it is Riley Ben King (A.K.A B.B. King). Everybody who listens for a few seconds will recognize B.B. King’s guitar playing in seconds. That is the power of B.B. King; his warm and mellow blues tones create an atmosphere that is hard to hate. this man actually does not use a lot of notes but he makes sure that every one of them is meaningful and beautifully excecuted. This simplicity over technicality is what makes his playing so unique and hard to copy.

”B.B. King was not one for fast licks or flashy playing. His focus was on pouring emotion into every note. His playing evokes deep feeling and captures the spirit of the blues. B.B. King’s tone is key to evoking this emotion. It is beautiful and pure, and unlike that of almost any other blues guitarist before or since.”

Happy Bluesman
Stumbeling on The King

I was on my weekly commute in the city of Leeuwarden (Netherlands) off to go to my favorite place: the record store Discus Music. It was here that I discovered that music should be cherised and that your should take your time to really get to know the story of the artist or album. To me, experiencing an album without distractions (e.g. social media, computer or other devices) is what makes you connect and understand the artist and the idea of the album better.

When I was in my favorite part of this store (the blues section of course) I came across the album ”Six Silver Strings”. I ended up listening to this CD for the whole weekend and became obsessed with it. Hearing that beautiful soulful voice combined with strong lyricism and real clean guitar playing made me feel like I was daydreaming and on a journey to musical heaven. Personally, I felt that the guitar solo in the song ”In The Midnight Hour” was one of the pieces why I keep comming back to this amazing album. After this album I ventured to ”Deuces Wild” and eventually began digging into one of his inspirations: T-Bone Walker.

As I am a guitar player I felt it was my duty to try to emulate some of his playing, even though I only had an acoustic guitar at the time. This ofcourse was not that easy but did make me see the guitar with a different perspective. Going forward I tried to keep in mind that less is more and, like talking, you should now when to speak and when to shut up.


Riley B. King, born on September 16, 1925, in Itta Bena, Mississippi, had a humble upbringing on a cotton plantation. Raised by his grandmother in Kilmichael and later in Indianola, Mississippi, King’s early exposure to gospel music sparked his passion for singing. His employer in Kilmichael, Flake Cartledge, bought him his first guitar, and King became self-taught.

In 1941, King discovered the radio show “King Biscuit Time,” which featured the Mississippi Delta blues, and it inspired him to pursue a career in music. He worked as a tractor driver and played guitar with the Famous St. John’s Gospel Singers before moving to Memphis in 1946. There, he immersed himself in the local music scene and performed on radio programs.

King’s talent and popularity grew, leading to regular engagements at clubs and a spot on WDIA, a Memphis radio station. It was during this time that he earned the nickname “Beale Street Blues Boy,” which eventually became “B.B.” King. His encounter with T-Bone Walker further fueled his desire to play the electric guitar.

With his distinctive voice and electrifying guitar skills, B.B. King became a legendary figure in the blues genre. His contributions as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter left an indelible mark on the music industry. Throughout his career, King received numerous accolades and touched the lives of millions with his heartfelt performances.


B.B. King’s musical journey began in the 1940s when he started performing in small clubs and on street corners. He honed his craft and developed a style characterized by his signature vibrato and heartfelt phrasing. With hits like “Three O’Clock Blues” and “The Thrill Is Gone,” B.B. King gained widespread recognition and popularity, propelling him to become one of the most influential blues artists of all time.

King’s passion for blues music emerged during a time when the genre was often criticized. He found inspiration in early blues singers and received his first guitar through a loan from his farm boss. King’s career took off when he moved to Memphis in 1946 and began performing on radio programs and in local clubs.

Throughout his illustrious career, B.B. King won 15 Grammy Awards for his blues music. His notable hits include “Three O’Clock Blues,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “Please Love Me,” “You Upset Me Baby,” “Sweet Sixteen, Part I,” and “Don’t Answer The Door, Part I”. In addition to his Grammy accolades, King received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2006 .

B.B. King’s contributions to music extended beyond his performances. He had his own museum in Indianola, Mississippi, dedicated to his life, music, influences, and the history of the blues.


B.B. King’s musical inspiration came from the great blues guitarists of his time, such as T-Bone Walker and Lonnie Johnson. He studied their techniques and incorporated them into his own playing, ultimately crafting a unique and instantly recognizable sound. King’s emotional depth and ability to convey his life experiences through his music became a hallmark of his artistry.

Musical Impact

B.B. King’s impact on the blues genre and the music industry as a whole cannot be overstated. He brought the blues to a wider audience, transcending cultural and generational boundaries. With his soulful voice and expressive guitar playing, King’s music touched the hearts of millions around the world.

His mastery of the electric guitar, known affectionately as “Lucille,” set new standards for the instrument. B.B. King’s playing was characterized by his ability to infuse every note with emotion, effortlessly blending soul, jazz, and blues into a mesmerizing sonic tapestry. His influence extended far beyond the blues, shaping the sound of rock, jazz, and countless other genres.

B.B. King’s impact reached beyond his music. He served as an ambassador for the blues, tirelessly touring and introducing the genre to new audiences. His warm personality and genuine connection with his listeners made him a beloved figure both on and off the stage.

Throughout his career, B.B. King received numerous accolades and honors, including multiple Grammy Awards and inductions into the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His dedication to his craft and his unwavering passion for the blues continue to inspire aspiring musicians to this day.

In conclusion, B.B. King’s contributions to the blues genre and the music industry at large are immeasurable. His soulful voice, expressive guitar playing, and profound lyrics have left an indelible mark on the hearts and souls of music enthusiasts worldwide. As the King of the Blues, B.B. King’s legacy will forever resonate, reminding us of the power of music to touch our lives and transcend barriers.

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