In 1949, legendary blues guitarist Riley B. King, otherwise known as B.B. King, played a dance hall in Twist, Arkansas. During a scuffle between two patrons fighting over a woman, a barrel of lit kerosene used to heat the venue was knocked to the ground, and set the building ablaze. The show was evacuated, only for King to realize he’d left his Gibson inside, who dove back in to retrieve it. King would later name that first guitar and every forth-coming guitar Lucille, after the woman the two patrons fought over.
Fast-forward to 1968, when B.B. King released the album Lucille, (Produced by jazz/blues production legend Bob Thiele) and told the story in full on the eponymous title track. Since that time King has owned a slew of other guitars, all of them named Lucille, and has a deep-seated appreciation for each one. As he says on the album’s title track: “I’ve had many guitars since that first incident, and I always call them Lucille. She’s taken me a long way, even brought me some fame…Most of all, she’s kept me alive…being able to eat.”
Lucille represents early B.B. King at his finest. It’s the last traditional blues album before 1969’s Completely Well would establish a trademark brand of blues music mixed with lushly arranged string ensembles. By contrast on Lucille the arrangements are more sparse, raw, and simple. King’s own skills with an ES-355 Gibson are on full display, amidst a crew of famed blues session musicians like Irving Ashby on rhythm guitar, Lloyd Glenn on piano, Maxwell Davis on organ, and many more. Guitars squeal, bass and drums rumble, brass instuments blare, and King’s powerful vocal howl complements Lucille’s winding licks. An important piece of blues history that can’t be overlooked.