B.B. King (guitar, electric) 1925 :: Fabulous Birthday wishes out to Riley B. King known by the stage name B.B. King, is an American blues musician, singer, songwriter, and guitarist.
Over the years, King has developed one of the world’s most identifiable guitar styles. He borrowed from Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker and others, integrating his precise and complex vocal-like string bends and his left hand vibrato, both of which have become indispensable components of rock guitarists’ vocabulary. His economy and phrasing has been a model for thousands of players, from Eric Clapton and George Harrison to Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. King has mixed blues, jazz, swing, mainstream pop and jump into a unique sound. In King’s words, “When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille.”
King grew up singing in the gospel choir at Elkhorn Baptist Church in Kilmichael. At the age of 12, he purchased his first guitar for $15.00, although another source indicates he was given his first guitar by Bukka White, his mother’s first cousin (King’s grandmother and White’s mother were sisters). In 1943, King left Kilmichael to work as a tractor driver and play guitar with the Famous St. John’s Quartet of Inverness, Mississippi, performing at area churches and on WGRM in Greenwood, Mississippi.
In 1946, King followed Bukka White to Memphis, Tennessee. White took him in for the next ten months. However, King shortly returned to Mississippi, where he decided to prepare himself better for the next visit, and returned to West Memphis, Arkansas, two years later in 1948. He performed on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program on KWEM in West Memphis, where he began to develop a local audience for his sound. King’s appearances led to steady engagements at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis and later to a ten-minute spot on the legendary Memphis radio station WDIA. King’s Spot became so popular, it was expanded and became the Sepia Swing Club.
Initially he worked at WDIA as a singer and disc jockey, gaining the nickname Beale Street Blues Boy, which was later shortened to Blues Boy and finally to B.B. It was there that he first met T-Bone Walker. “Once I’d heard him for the first time, I knew I’d have to have [an electric guitar] myself. ‘Had’ to have one, short of stealing!”, he said.
In 1949, King began recording songs under contract with Los Angeles-based RPM Records. Many of King’s early recordings were produced by Sam Phillips, who later founded Sun Records. Before his RPM contract, King had debuted on Bullet Records by issuing the single “Miss Martha King” (1949), which did not chart well
King assembled his own band; the B.B. King Review, under the leadership of Millard Lee. The band initially consisted of Calvin Owens and Kenneth Sands (trumpet), Lawrence Burdin (alto saxophone), George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Floyd Newman (baritone saxophone), Millard Lee (piano), George Joyner (bass) and Earl Forest and Ted Curry (drums). Onzie Horne was a trained musician elicited as an arranger to assist King with his compositions.
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 guitar, a Gibson hollow electric. 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.
In the 1950s, B.B. King became one of the most important names in R&B music, amassing an impressive list of hits including “3 O’Clock Blues”, “You Know I Love You,” “Woke Up This Morning,” “Please Love Me,” “When My Heart Beats like a Hammer,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “You Upset Me Baby,” “Every Day I Have the Blues”, “Sneakin’ Around,” “Ten Long Years,” “Bad Luck,” “Sweet Little Angel”, “On My Word of Honor,” and “Please Accept My Love.” King was extremely busy during this period and made 342 appearances and 3 recording sessions in 1956 alone. In 1962, King signed to ABC-Paramount Records, which was later absorbed into MCA Records, and this hence into his current label, Geffen Records. In November 1964, King recorded the Live at the Regal album at the Regal Theater in Chicago, Illinois.
King won a Grammy Award for a tune called “The Thrill Is Gone”; his version became a hit on both the pop and R&B charts, which was rare during that time for an R&B artist. It also gained the number 183 spot in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. He gained further visibility among rock audiences as an opening act on The Rolling Stones’ 1969 American Tour. King’s mainstream success continued throughout the 1970s with songs like “To Know You is to Love You” and “I Like to Live the Love”.
King was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2004 he was awarded the international Polar Music Prize, given to artists “in recognition of exceptional achievements in the creation and advancement of music.”
From the 1980s onward he has continued to maintain a highly visible and active career, appearing on numerous television shows and performing 300 nights a year. In 1988, King reached a new generation of fans with the single “When Love Comes to Town”, a collaborative effort between King and the Irish band U2 on their Rattle and Hum album. Also that year King played for the 1988 Republican National Convention at the behest of the notorious Republican operative Lee Atwater. King has remained friendly with the Bush Family ever since and in 1990 was awarded the Presidential Medal of the Arts by George H.W. Bush and the Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2008. In 2000, King teamed up with guitarist Eric Clapton to record Riding With the King. In 1998, King appeared in The Blues Brothers 2000, playing the part of the lead singer of the Louisiana Gator Boys, along with Clapton, Dr. John, Koko Taylor and Bo Diddley.
King is widely regarded as one of the most influential blues guitarists of all time, inspiring countless other electric blues and blues-rock guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Robert Cray, Peter Green, Derek Trucks, John Mayer, Duane Allman, Elmore James, Bob Marley and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Billy Boy Arnold(harmonica) 1935 :: Many happy returns to Billy Boy Arnold. Billy Boy is an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter. He began playing harmonica as a child, and in 1948 received informal lessons from his near neighbour John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, shortly before the latter’s death. Arnold made his recording debut in 1952 with “Hello Stranger” on the small Cool label, the record company giving him the nickname “Billy Boy”.
In the early 1950s, he joined forces with street musician Bo Diddley and played harmonica on the March 2, 1955 recording of the Bo Diddley song “I’m a Man” released by Checker Records. The same day as the Bo Diddley sessions, Billy Boy recorded the self-penned “You Got to Love Me” which was not released until the box set, Chess Blues 1947-1967, in 1992.
Arnold signed a solo recording contract with Vee-Jay Records, recording the originals of “I Wish You Would” and “I Ain’t Got You”. Both were later covered by The Yardbirds. “I Wish You Would” was also recorded by David Bowie on his 1973 album, Pin Ups and by Sweet on their 1982 album, Identity Crisis.
In the late 1950s Arnold continued to play in Chicago clubs, and in 1963 he recorded a LP, More Blues From The South Side, for the Prestige label, but as playing opportunities dried up he pursued a parallel career as a bus driver and, later, parole officer.
By the 1970s Arnold had begun playing festivals, touring Europe, and recording again. He recorded a session for BBC Radio 1 disc jockey John Peel on 5 October 1977.
In 1993 he released the album Back Where I Belong on Alligator Records, followed by Eldorado Cadillac (1995) and Boogie ’n’ Shuffle (2001). In 2012 he released Blue and Lonesome featuring Tony McPhee and The Groundhogs.
Little Willie Littlefield(piano) 1931-2013 :: Willie Littlefield, billed as Little Willie Littlefield was an American R&B and boogie-woogie pianist and singer whose early recordings “formed a vital link between boogie-woogie and rock and roll”. Littlefield was regarded a teenage wonder and overnight sensation when in 1949 at the age of 18 he popularised the triplet piano style on his Modern Records debut single “It’s Midnight”. He also recorded the first version of the song “Kansas City” — originally issued as “K. C. Lovin’” — in 1952.
Littlefield was strongly influenced by boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons. A particular favourite of his was Ammons’ Swanee River Boogie, which he later recorded for Eddie’s Records. Other major influences on Littlefield’s style were Texas musicians Charles Brown and Amos Milburn Littlefield learned most of their “chops” and soon developed his own distinctive “triplet style”, which, by the early 1950s, was widely copied in the R&B field, particularly by Fats Domino who incorporated it into his successful New Orleans rhythms.
His first recording, “Little Willie’s Boogie” was a hit in Texas in 1949, and brought him to the attention of Jules Bihari, one of the Bihari brothers of Modern Records in Los Angeles, California, who were searching for a performer to rival the success of Amos Milburn. Bihari flew to Houston in July 1949 to investigate the city’s black entertainment venues and heard of a “teenage wonder boy pianist” who was causing a stir at the Eldorado Ballroom. Bihari went to hear Littlefield and soon arranged for an audition at a local studio. The session was captured on acetate disc, with Bihari, clearly audible in the background, calling for Littlefield to play the popular R&B tunes of the day.
Back at Modern Records, he recorded “It’s Midnight”, which became a national hit reaching #3 on the Billboard R&B chart. Its follow-up, “Farewell”, reached #5 on the R&B chart. He became a major nightclub attraction and recorded with West Coast musicians such as Maxwell Davis. Don Wilkerson, Littlefield’s old school buddy and the leading saxman in his band, also travelled to Los Angeles, but Milburn promptly stole him to lead his own new band ‘The Aladdin Chickenshackers’.
Modern Records booked Littlefield for three recording sessions during October 1949, followed by more sessions in the following two months at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. During these three months alone, over 22 sides were cut - an unusual output when compared to most other artists who averaged only two sessions a year. Other musicians for these sessions included saxophonists Maxwell Davis and Buddy Floyd, guitarists Chuck Norris and Johnny Moore, and drummers Al Wichard and Jessie Price. One of his 1950 recordings, “Happy Pay Day”, a song written by Jack Holmes, was later rewritten by Holmes with entirely different lyrics as “The Blacksmith Blues”, which became a hit for Ella Mae Morse.
In 1951, his duet with Little Lora Wiggins, “I’ve Been Lost”, reached #10 on the R&B chart. In 1952 he moved to the Federal subsidiary of King Records, his first session producing “K. C. Loving”, written by Leiber and Stoller and later re-recorded by Wilbert Harrison as “Kansas City”.
By 1957 Littlefield had moved to Northern California and continued to record for Don Barksdale’s Rhythm label in San Francisco where he produced the single “Ruby, Ruby”. Littlefield’s recording and his subsequent releases were not successful, although he remained a popular club act in the San Francisco area.
In the late 1970s he toured Europe successfully, settling in the Netherlands and releasing a number of albums from 1982 into the late 1990s for the Oldie Blues label from Martin van Olderen. Littlefield built a considerable European reputation with his vigorous boogie-woogie piano playing and smoky singing.
Being on the road for more than 50 years, Littlefield stopped touring in 2000. After five years of retirement in his adopted home country The Netherlands, Little Willie Littlefield decided to play again starting in 2006. “I went fishing for five years - now I know every herring in Holland by name - it got boring. I feel great and I want to be back with my audience”, Little Willie declared.
In his later years Littlefield continued to perform occasionally, mainly at festivals, particularly in the UK. In 2008 he played at the 20th Burnley Blues Festival and in July 2009 at the 5th annual UK Boogie Woogie Festival at Sturminster Newton in Dorset. Having appeared at Shakedown Blues Club, at Castor Hall, near Castor, Peterborough in 2006, Littlefield made a return appearance in October 2010.