There aren’t many musicians who are still playing live aged eighty-nine. However, B.B. King was. He was still touring during 2014. Sadly, on October 3rd 2014, B.B. King had to call time on his performance at the House Of Blues in Chicago. When B.B. King left the stage, he was diagnosed with exhaustion and dehydration. That was the last time B.B. King took to the stage.

On May 14th 2015, B.B. King’s death was announced. The death of the eighty-nine year old bluesman was regarded as the end of an era. B.B. King was the seen as the last of generation of great American bluesmen, who were born into a very different world. 

B.B. King was born Riley B. King, on September 16th 1925, in Itta Bena, Mississippi. His parents Albert and Nora Ella King, were sharecroppers. However, when Riley B. King was just four, Nora Ella King left Albert King for another man. This lead to the young Riley B. King moving to Mississippi, where he lived with his grandmother.

Soon, Riley B. King came to regard Mississippi as his home. He sung in the gospel choir Elkhorn Baptist Church in Kilmichael. Later, Riley B. King moved Pentecostal Church of God in Christ not for ecumenical reasons, but because of the music. The minister lead worship totting a Sears Roebuck Silvertone guitar. It was on that guitar, that Riley B. King learnt to play his first three chords. From that moment, he was hooked.

By the time he was twelve, Riley B. King owned his first guitar. Speculation surrounds how he came by it. In some interviews, B.B. King claimed to have paid $15 for it. That however, was a considerable sum of money on 1937. A more plausible explanation was that Bukka White gifted Riley B. King his first guitar. He was, Nora Ella King’s first cousin. Regardless of how Riley B. King came by his first guitar, little did anyone realise that musical history had been made.

Now the proud owner of his very own guitar, Riley B. King set about mastering his chosen instrument. He sat each day, practising, honing and refining his sound. This took time, as most of the time, Riley B. King had nobody to guide him. Occasionally, Bukka White stopped by. Mostly, though, it was just Riley B. King learning by trial and error. This was how he passed his time at night. 

During the day, Riley B. King was a tractor driver at a plantation. That’s where he was in November 1941. Riley B. King  was on a break, when he heard the radio show King Biscuit Time on KFFA which broadcast out of Helena, Arkansas. King Biscuit Time played the Delta Blues. As the eighteen year old Riley B. King listened, he was transfixed and began to dream, dream of leaving the plantation behind, and becoming a blues guitarist. That dream eventually came true.

It took two years, but eventually, Riley B. King left the plantation behind in 1943. He played guitar with the St. John’s Quartet. They were based in Inverness, Mississippi and gave Riley B. King the break he so desperately wanted. 

Three years later, in 1946, Riley B. King made his way to Memphis, where he joined his uncle Bukka White. He looked after his nephew for the next ten months. During that period, Riley B. King had the opportunity to learn from a blues great. It was the equivalent of a musical education. When Riley B. King returned to Mississippi, he was a much better guitarist, and was determined to improve further.

When Riley B. King returned to West Memphis, Arkansas in 1948, he was a much better guitarist. The twenty-three year old had dedicated himself to learning his craft. This paid off, when Riley B. King got the opportunity to play on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio show on KWEM, where he was well received by listeners. They wanted to hear more of the twenty-three year old bluesman. 

Soon, Riley B. King’s star was in the ascendancy. He was playing all over West Memphis, and quickly, established a regular residency at Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis. Not long after this, Riley B. King had his own ten minute slot of WDIA. However, given how popular Riley B. King’s appearances were, he soon got his own show the Sepia Swing Club.

At WDIA, Riley B. King doubled as a singer and DJ. He was host and performer at the Sepia Swing Club, where he gain the sobriquet Beale Street Blues Boy. This was later shortened to B.B., and B.B. King was born. 

With his newly acquired sobriquet, B.B. King greeted a guest who as visiting WDIA, T-Bone Walker. He came totting a new electric guitar. This was something that B.B. King had never seen before. Not many people had. T-Bone Walker pioneered the electric guitar, but sadly, doesn’t get the credit he deserves. For B.B. King it was love at first sight. He knew had to have an electric guitar.

B.B. King had np idea that the electric guitar was going to change musical history. Nobody did. Instead, many people thought the electric guitar was a gimmick. Not T-Bone Walker. He believed, and now so did B.B. King. He was determined he was going to have an electric guitar, and soon, had switched from acoustic to electric guitar.

In 1949, the electric guitar toting B.B. King signed to the Bihari  brothers nascent label RPM Records. This wasn’t B.B. King’s first recording contract. He had recorded several songs for the Nashville based Bullet Record Transcription company. However, RPM Records would become home to B.B. King until he switched to another of the Bihari brothers new labels Kent Records. That was home to B.B. King until 1962, and was where he came of age musically. That’s apparent on Ace Records’ recent released, Here’s One You Didn’t Know About-From The RPM and Kent Vaults. It features twenty-five previously unreleased tracks from that B.B. King recorded between 1954 and 1962.

This period was an important one for B.B. King. Although he had been playing the guitar since he was twelve, the electric guitar was a whole new ball game. He had yet to hone and develop his trademark sound. By the time B.B. King left Kent Records, he played with a fluidity many guitarists envied. As he unleashed a solo, he bent the strings of the guitar, and introduced a shimmering, glistening vibrato. This was new and would change music. However, when B.B. King signed to RPM, he was one of the rising stars of the blues. Once again, the Bihari brothers had pulled off a musical coup, by signing the man who would be heralded as one of the greatest, and most influential guitarists in the history of music, B.B. King.

The earliest recordings on Here’s One You Didn’t Know About-From The RPM and Kent Vaults are The Woman I Love (Copper Colored Mama) and Whole Lotta Meat (a.k.a. Hey Little Girl). These two tracks were recorded on 6th February 1954, and find B.B. King striving for perfection. He was working his band hard, and was on his tenth take of Whole Lotta Meat (a.k.a. Hey Little Girl). Only when the song was error free would B.B. King be happy. Even after ten takes, B.B. King ensures the song swings. Other bluesmen wouldn’t have been as diligent, but by 1954, B.B. King was making a name for himself.

He had signed to RPM in 1949, and by 1954, was no stranger to the studio. That’s despite only switching to electric guitar in 1948. However, B.B. King was well on his way to mastering it as his performances on When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer and Don’t You Want A Man Like Me show. Both tracks were recorded during March 1954. When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer was the first take. However, B.B. King wasn’t happy, and the band recut the song. That was the case with the recording of Don’t You Want A Man Like Me? This was the third take. Still B.B. King wasn’t happy, and the band start all over again. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the third or tenth take, B.B. King ensures his band keep up their standards. That was the case through his career, which in the mid-fifties, was in its infancy.  

It was the mid-fifties that B.B. King recorded Shut Your Mouth. It’s thought this take was recorded in 1954 or 1955. The version of Shut Your Mouth is gradually taking shape, but B.B. King, forever the perfectionist, knows he can do better. That was the case when B.B. King cut Talkin’ The Blues in 1955. By then, his trademark guitar sound is beginning to take shape. Accompanied by flourishes of piano, and a steady drumbeat, it’s one of B.B. King’s finest moments on Here’s One You Didn’t Know About-From The RPM and Kent Vaults.

There’s three takes of Sweet Little Angel on Here’s One You Didn’t Know About-From The RPM and Kent Vaults. The first was recorded in 1955 or 1956, the same time as Be Careful With A Fool was cut. An exact date of the recordings isn’t known. However, they’re interesting artefacts. B.B. King fluffs the introduction to Sweet Little Angel, and restarts. It’s as if the pressures off him, and he’s able to enjoy himself. That seems to the case on the version of Early In The Morning he recorded in 1956. Accompanied by a crack band and horn section, B.B. King showcases his considerable skills. With each passing year, he seemed to mature as a guitarist.

By 1958, B.B. King was edging ever nearer to his what became his trademark sound. That becomes apparent in You Know I Go For You and You’ve Been An Angel. Both were recorded during 1958, and feature B.B. King shimmering vibrato. He plays with a fluidity, and during the solo on You Know I Go For You, B.B. King and his guitar become one. It’s an impressive sound, and as the fifties were draw to close, B.B. King was becoming one of the biggest draws in blues music. 

One of his last recording sessions of the fifties came on 26th October 1959, when he cut Going Down Slow. Ever the perfectionist, B.B. King wasn’t happy with the first version, and on the second take delivers an emotive, heartfelt vocal. It was closer to what B.B. King envisaged, but he called another take. Only the best was good enough for B.B. King. He had his reputation to protect.

When the sixties dawned, B.B. King and his band were travelling all over America, and further afield. B.B. King was now regarded as one of the biggest names in blues music. That’s despite other bluesmen having been around longer. So as 1960 took shape, thirty-five year old B.B. King found himself being compared to T-Bone Walker, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson. They would go on to influence a generation of musicians later in the decade. Before that, B.B. King had a lot of music to record.

During 1960, B.B. King spent a lot of time in the recording studio. That’s when it’s thought B.B. King recorded Be Careful Baby, which features a glistening, chiming solo and the vocal people came to know and love. It seemed B.B. King had come of age musically.

That becomes apparent on the other songs B.B. King cut during 1960. On 16h March, B.B. King recorded the third take of Partin’ Time. Less than a week later, on 22nd March he cut Soul Beat Aka Powerhouse. It’s also known as Swingin’ With Sonny. Here, it’s a case of swinging with B.B. King. Blazing horns, rolls of drums and stabs of piano accompany B.B. King in full flight. It’s a joy to behold, and this is a real find. So is the moody, melancholy version of Long Nights (The Feeling They Call The Blues). Then B.B. King delivers a needy vocal on I Gotta Find My Baby, whilst showcasing his now trademark sound. This hurt and pain continues on Long Nights (The Feeling They Call The Blues) and Loving You In Vain (Aka Heartache And Pain), as B.B. King brings the songs to life. By now, he’s a master craftsmen, whose served his time with the Bihari brothers.

By 10th April 1961, B.B. King had spent the last twelve years signed to the Bihari brother’s labels. During that time, he had matured as a musician, and his music evolved. Critics who had followed B.B. King’s career, said he come one leaps and bounds. He was a much better musician than he was in 1949, and was now regarded as one of the Bihiari brothers crown jewels. B.B. King was one of their biggest selling artists. So when he went into the studio, no expense was spared. 

Strings were overdubbed onto Why Not, a song B.B. King was determined to nail. His band had had several run throughs, and the eighth take features on Here’s One You Didn’t Know About-From The RPM and Kent Vaults. With swathes of strings for company, and rasping horns punctuating the arrangement, Why Not shows a very different side of B.B. King. The song has a much smoother, slicker sound. All the rough edges have been smoothed away on Why Not, and a much more polished sound. However, B.B. King hadn’t turned his back on the blues.

Later in 1961, B.B. King reinvented Catfish Blues (a.k.a. Fishin’ After Me) in the studio. He takes the song apart, and rebuilds it, transforming it into something nobody every envisaged. Then on the sixth take of Bad Case Of Love, B.B. King is one step closer to finally putting the track to bed. Despite needing so many takes, B.B. King still gives his all. He was a perfectionist, and would be throughout his time at Kent Records, and beyond. 

B.B. King’s time at Kent Records was almost at an end. 1962 was the year B.B. King and the Bihari brothers parted company. Before that, B.B. King recorded Whole Lotta’ Love and I Wonder Why on 9th January 1962. Then later in 1962, B.B. King moved on, and signed to ABC-Paramount.

It was at ABC-Paramount where B.B. King enjoyed the most successful period of his career. However, it was the Bihari brothers that gave B.B. King his big break. 

During the thirteen years he was in the Bihari brother’s employ, B.B. King came of age musically. Gradually, his trademark vocal and guitar sound took shape. This didn’t happen overnight. It took years. By the late fifties, the B.B. King that many people came to know and love, was starting to take shape. As the sixties dawned, B.B. King was regarded as one of the biggest names in blues music, who later in sixties, would influence everyone from the Rolling Stones to Eric Clapton, Cream and The Animals. By then, Kent Records was just a distant memory for B.B. King.

Throughout the rest of the sixties seventies, ABC was home to B.B. King right up until 1978. He was the most successful and lauded bluesman of his generation. B.B. King had introduced many people to the blues. When he played sell-out shows across America, it was to multi-racial audiences. Commercial success and critical acclaim had come his way. 

Right up until 1983, B.B. King’s albums featured on the US Billboard 200 charts. Latterly, they struggled at the lower reaches of Billboard 200 charts. However, B.B. King was an almost permanent the US R&B charts until 1985. By then, B.B. King was signed to MCA which would his home right up until 2003. Commercial success was much more sporadic for B.B. King. That was until the new millennia dawned.

As the new millennia dawned, B.B. King released Riding With The King, his collaboration with Eric Clapton. It was released in 2000, and reached number three in the US Billboard 200. B.B. King’s first album of the new millennia sold over two million copies. However, after that, 2001s A Christmas Celebration Of Hope and 2001s Reflections struggled in the lower reaches of the charts. It was only when B.B. King was joined by the great and good of modern music, that B.B. King was riding high in the charts again.

To celebrate B.B. King’s eightieth birthday, B.B. King and Friends was released in 2005, and reached forty-five in the US Billboard 200. This proved to be the penultimate studio album of B.B. King’s recording career.

B.B. King returned in 2008 with One Kind Favour, which was produced by T-Bone Burnett. It reached number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 200, and won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album at the 51st Grammy Awards. B.B. King would have a hard job to surpass a Grammy Award winning album.

Winning a Grammy Award was one of the biggest honour for any musician. Even one as experienced as B.B. King. He never released a followup to One Kind Favour, and B.B. King was like the heavyweight champion who retired undefeated. However, B.B. King wasn’t for retiring.

Six years later, and B.B. King was eighty-nine. He was showing no sign of slowing down. B.B. King was still touring during 2014. Sadly, on October 3rd 2014, B.B. King had to call time on his performance at the House Of Blues in Chicago. When B.B. King left the stage, he was diagnosed with exhaustion and dehydration. That was the last time B.B. King took to the stage.

On May 14th 2015, B.B. King’s death was announced. The death of the eighty-nine year old bluesman was regarded as the end of an era. That day, music lost the man many call The King Of The Blues, B.B. King, who was one of the most influential blues’ guitarists of his generation. That didn’t happen overnight.

Not at all. It happened between 1949 and 1962, when B.B. King was in the Bihari brother’s employ at RPM and Kent Records. That’s where B.B. King recorded the twenty-five tracks on  Here’s One You Didn’t Know About-From The RPM and Kent Vaults, which features B.B. King coming of age musically, and maturing into the one of the best blues guitarists of his generation.








  1. Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.

  2. Must check whether this material is on the 4CD set I’ve had for yonks. If not, sounds essential!

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