“The Three Kings of the Blues Guitar” are Albert, Freddie and BB King. Each had an enormous impact on the way we think about blues today.
Albert King was by some reports, a towering 6’7″ (2.01 m) and weighed in at 250 lbs (110 kg). He grew up on a cotton plantation, singing work songs and gospel with the church choir. Eventurally he worked his way up to Gary, Indiana and then on to St. Louis, Missouri, playing with Jimmy Reed.
He played a few instruments in his time, starting with a diddley bow, then a homemade cigarbox guitar and eventually he settled on his instrument of choice; the electric guitar, a Gibson Flying V- which he named “Lucy”.
Some of his influences include: Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson. Throughout the 50s he ended up playing regionally and in Chicago, Il as well, but it wasn’t until 1961 that he achieved his first real commercial success: “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong”
In ’66, he moved to Memphis, TN he recorded other hits such as: “Crosscut Saw”, “As the Years go Passing By” and of course: “Born Under A Bad Sign”.
He recorded tributes to Elvis Presley, with the Doors and even started played the funk as a means of staying relevant and on the charts. He played with Isaac Hayes’s backing band, “The Movement” to achieve this for the album “I Wanna Get Funky” an excellent mix of blues licks and funk.
When he died in 1992, his funeral procession was played by the Memphis Horns and BB King stated in his eulogy that “Albert wasn’t my brother in blood, but he was my brother in Blues.
His top hits include:
- Born Under a Bad Sign
- Stormy Monday
- Pride and Joy
- I’ll Play the Blues for You
- Crosscut Saw
Freddie King was called “The Texas Cannonball” and started playing the guitar at six years old. In 1949, his family moved from Dallas, TX to Chicago, IL where he worked in a steel mill from 1956 onward.
Regarding using the name “King”, his family maintains that he was born with the last name “King” but went with the last name “Christian” to appease his stepfather. In any event, he was musically ambitious and some think that the move to use “King” as a last name was a means of clinging to the coattails of the already-famous BB King.
As an underaged kid, he started sneaking into Chicago blues bars almost as soon as they moved, where he heard blues greats like “T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson. He formed his first blues band “The Every Hour Blues Boys” and occasionally worked as a side man for more famous musicians.
He also worked with sidemen from Muddy’s bands, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, Memphis Slim and several other big names in the Chicago blues world at that time.
His first album as a leader was a duet with Margaret Whitfield called “Country Boy.”
His style combined the Texas Open-String style and the West-Side Chicago Rawness in a way that was his own. He started playing on a Gibson Les Paul before moving on to a Gibson ES-345. He also combined a plastic thumb pick and a metal index finger pick using one of the techniques taught to him by Jimmie Rogers. He also tended to improvise more than the other two Kings (Albert and BB).
After 1970, his style shifted more toward Rock and Roll and he stopped recording new music, but rather recorded previous hits of other more famous musicians.
Years of touring almost 300 days per year took their toll and he died in 1978 of acute pancreatitis. People who knew him said that his diet of Pre-show Bloody Marys probably contributed to his early death (he drank them to save time while setting up for shows).
Honors and Accodades:
- He is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- Rolling Stone Magazine named him one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
- in 1993, September 3 was declared by then-governor Anne Richards to be “Freddie King Day” (an honor given to few texas natives)
- He’s also mentioned in Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band”
His top hits include:
- Country Boy/That’s What You Think
- Have You Ever Loved A Woman
- You’ve Got To Love Her With Feeling
- I’m Tore Down
BB King has arguably one of the most recognizeable guitar styles of the 20th century. While one of the “Three Kings” his other nickname is “THE King of Blues.” He has a smooth vibrato, based on string-bending. His main influences are T-Bone Walker and Blind Lemon Jefferson. He’s influenced a TON of other musicians (including the other two “Kings” on this list).
BB King was born in Berclair, Mississippi and was raised by his grandmother after his father left the family. He was given his first guitar by his cousin Bukka White.
About his style and why it sounds so “vocal” on the guitar he has said “When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille.” Lucille of course, is the name of his Gibson ES-355.
He left Mississippi to go play in Memphis, TN following his cousin to do so. He started to play as a Disc Jockey and singer on the radio, where he got the nickname Beale Street Blues Boy, then Blues Boy then just B.B.
He was a tireless performer, often performing more than 300 concerts per year well into his 80s. It’s hard to overstate his importance in blues music. He has inspired and recorded with artists such as Eric Clapton, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, indeed, his style of playing has inspired countless others in the way they think about the blues.
For awhile, he even had his own TV Show called “BB King and Friends,” where he would feature different guest musicians every week. Due to his untimely death, it was the final performance of Paul Butterfield.
BB King Trivia:
- He is listed as No. 6 in Rolling Stone’s all-time best blues musician list.
- He’s been a vegetarian for several years and has been a diabetic since 1980.
- has been quoted saying, “women have said at one point or other “it’s me or Lucille”, that’s why I’ve had 15 kids with 15 women”
His most famous songs include:
- The Thrill is Gone
- Nobody Loves Me But My Mother (And She Could Be Jivin’ Too)
- Come Rain or Come Shine
- Hold On, I’m Comin’
- Key to The Highway
- Ten Long Years