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A Music Legend In Town This Weekend

B.B. King
(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

How do you start a story about one of the legendary performers in American music history? B.B. King is more than a Blues legend. He’s been in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for 25 years already.  A performer has to wait 25 years from their first recording to even be considered for the Hall…you do the math.

B.B. King was born Riley King September 16, 1925 in Itta Bena, Mississippi on a cotton plantation. His father left the family when King was just four and he was raised by his maternal grandmother. King grew up singing in the gospel choir, but the future musical landscape was forever changed when a 12 year old B.B. got his first guitar.

He was taken under the wing of his mother’s cousin Bukka White, himself a Delta Blues guitar player who helped him get on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio showin West Memphis. He became so popular that he ended up getting his own show as a disc jockey and singer where he was known as the Beale Street Blues Boy…later shortened to B.B.

The rest as they say is history. King and his guitar Lucille have toured the world numerous times over the past 60+ years and will make a stop at Grand Falls Casino in Larchwood, IA this Saturday night.

Have you ever wondered why he calls his guitar Lucille? In the winter of 1949, King played at a dance hall in Twist, Arkansas. In order to heat the hall, a barrel half-filled with kerosene was lit, a fairly common practice at the time. During a performance, two men began to fight, knocking over the burning barrel and sending burning fuel across the floor. The hall burst into flames, which triggered an evacuation. Once outside, King realized that he had left his guitar inside the burning building. He entered the blaze to retrieve his beloved $30 Gibson guitar. Two people died in the fire. The next day, King learned that the two men were fighting over a woman named Lucille. King named that first guitar Lucille, as well as every one he owned since that near-fatal experience, as a reminder never again to do something as stupid as run into a burning building or fight over women.

B.B. is 87 now and has been a diabetic for decades. He has to sit for his performances, but once B.B. and Lucille start up, the sounds are unmistakable. He still smiles that smile and shakes what his mama and grandmama gave him. You can’t help but have a good time when B.B. King comes to town.

Tickets are still available at the Grand Falls Casino box office for $60, $65, or $70. Get more details here.

Here’s a video of King performing his classic The Thrill Is Gone in 1993 at Montreux Jazz Festival. He was a spry 68 when the video was shot.

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