Happy Birthday, BB King

Danny has an excellent post to mark BB King’s 83rd birthday. As I said in this post about the Epiphone BB King Lucille, BB is one of my favourite all-time guitar players. I saw him live a couple of times, once in 1989 and once in 1993 and both nights were amazing. Sadly, he’s retired from touring outside the US, but there are plenty of live recordings available from over the years. In particular, Live at the Regal, and Live at San Quentin are very worthwhile checking out.

Epiphone BB King Lucille

For as long as I’ve been able to play the guitar, BB King has been my favourite guitar player. There’s something about his style which manages to capture the joy and misery of the blues in one note. And the way he wrings the neck of his beloved Lucille to extract every last ounce of vibrato and sustain from it is sensational.

I’ve been lucky enough to see him live twice. On the first occasion, at the Edinburgh Playhouse in 1989, the theatre was absolutely jumping. Everyone was dancing by the end and there was a couple in front of us who looked they were having a particularly good time.

The story of BB’s guitar, a Gibson acoustic he was playing in the late forties, is the stuff of legend. He named it Lucille after a woman who was at a gig he was playing in Arkansas in 1949. A fight broke out over the woman, that caused a fire to start and the place was evacuated as it burned down. Rather than run for his life however, King went back into the joint to retrieve his guitar. On finding out that the woman over whom the fight had broken out was named Lucille, he gave the guitar which nearly cost him his life, the same name. And he’s called every guitar since, Lucille.

[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”B0002GZSM2″ locale=”us” height=”500″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31iGbGgibJL.jpg” width=”225″]The Epiphone B.B. King Lucille is a semi-hollow body archtop with no f-holes and was designed by the great man himself. It’s based on the Gibson ES-355 King played from around 1958 onwards. He used to stuff the soundholes with rags to prevent unwanted feedback. “I don’t want feedback – unless I want it. And a lot of times with the S-holes if you really crank it up and the amplifier is close to you, you will get feedback. I’m no technical person, but I do know that. I know how to get feedback from Lucille when I want it. But only when I want it,” he told interviewer, Walter Carter.

The Epiphone B.B. King Lucille features two humbuckers with Vari-tone control, gold hardware, laminated maple body and top, and a set maple neck with rosewood fretboard and block inlays. The tailpiece is a TP-6 fine tuning unit and the headstock is emblazoned with the name ‘Lucille’. The Epiphone BB King Lucille comes in ebony and has stereo outputs.

If you want the ultimate Epiphone B.B. King Lucille, Rock for Kids is auctioning one, signed by the great man himself, on 5 December 2008. You can see the guitar here.

It won’t make you sound like BB on its own, but with the right amp set-up and a lot of practice, you might just get close.