It seemed like he'd go on forever ... and B.B. King was working right up until the end. It's what he loved to do: playing music ... and fishing. Even late in life, living with diabetes, he spent about half the year on the road. King died Thursday night at home in Las Vegas. He was 89 years old.
He was born Riley B. King on a plantation in Itta Bena, Miss. He played on street corners before heading to Memphis, Tenn., where he stayed with his cousin, the great country bluesman Bukka White. His career took off thanks to radio — he got a spot on Sonny Boy Williamson's radio show, then landed his own slot on black-run WDIA in Memphis. He needed a handle. At first it was Beale Street Blues Boy. Then Blues Boy King. Finally B.B. King stuck.
You can't mention names without talking about his guitar, Lucille. It was actually more than one. The story goes that the first was a $30 acoustic he was playing at a dance in Arkansas when two men got in a fight, kicked over a stove and started a fire. When King was safe outside, he realized he'd left the guitar inside. He ran back into the burning dance hall to save it. After he learned the fight had been over a woman named Lucille, he decided to name his guitar for her to remind himself never to get into a fight over a woman. And since then, every one of his trademark Gibson ES-355s has been named Lucille.