B.B. King. What has not been said about this man? What could I add? I don’t think I need to give him any introduction. If you are on this page looking for tips about playing the blues, I am certain you know of and understand this man’s impact on the genre. For he is the King of the Blues. No other guitarist has impacted my playing more, with the exception of Stevie Ray Vaughan. In my house growing up one of the constants was a bargain bin compilation titled Why I Sing the Blues. To this day I highly recommend it, I don’t think there is a more complete essentials record for B.B. out there. I sit here listening to it over the 30+ records of B.B.’s that I own. The man was larger than life. That big gorgeous 355, slick suits, big rings, and sharp band was both intimidating and mesmerizing. There is no way around him, he affects everything in the genre. He is the high water mark of what one could achieve. He worked his butt off too, for decades playing over 300 dates a year.
What puts B.B. in a class of his own is his vibrato. That sweet, fast, stinging vibrato. If you take away anything about playing, have it be to not skimp on your vibrato technique. That will be a lesson later on, as it truly defines and separates the good and the great. It IS your voice. You know B.B. from one note. I look at vibrato in the terms of the 10,000 hours rule. If you practice something for 10,000 hours you will master it, inside and out. Sit and play one note for a whole practice session. Try pushing up against the string with vibrato. Pulling down against, fast, slow, medium, a little, a lot, every which way. It will pay off, it did for B.B. We will post some videos of me running through B.B. licks, and you should pay attention to the vibrato. Go out and scour Youtube for clips of him playing. There is no shortage.
It is not often that the passing of an artist stops me dead in my tracks and takes my breath away. News of B.B.’s passing did just that. I never imagined a world without him, it didn’t seem possible. He was SO important to the world. Not only musically, but the things he had seen, passed our ways. I uncontrollably wept that morning. There are very few individuals that you can say there was before and then there was after. Enjoy the lesson, I hope you find your favorite tunes and albums. I hope it allows you to unlock new joy with the instrument and find a voice all your own. It was invaluable to me as a beginning guitarist to dive head first into his style and catalog, sustaining a 20+ year love affair that burns as brightly now as it did then.
B.B. used a Gibson ES 355’s named Lucille, and to my recollection played through Fender Super Reverbs and Twins . I am sure people could dig up other amps he used, but to me a Gibson 355 and a Fender clean amp is the B.B. sound. My absolute favorite album (that is not a compilation) is Lucille Talks. Not the widely available compilation, but a little known, panned record from the mid 70’s. It showed a very laid back B.B. He even used some wah wah on that record! Very cool record, and with a little digging you can find it. Other classics are Live at the Regal (Brendan’s favorite), Cook County Jail, and another highlight is Indianola Mississippi Seeds, a record featuring Joe Walsh and Leon Russell. Go forth. Play blues, wrangle your soul out through those strings with everything you have in you. Sustain them every which way but broken, and even that is ok! Find your voice and use B.B. as a road map and you can do no wrong. Remember, practice that vibrato 10,000 times, until your fingers blister and there is no two buts about it. You have your voice and a vibrato that will stun a listener from a hundred yards, making them sit up and pay attention. If you can do that, you can reach deep into someone and hit them the way B.B. did, every time he hit a note. – Joe