BB King & Lucille H5A7151

Article and Photos by Kimberly Annette

Born Riley B. King. Named Beale Street Blues Boy. Became Blues Boy. Crowned B. B. King. The King of the blues by the people, and a legend is born.

Within this legend there is a love story, a story of true love, the love of a King and his beloved Queen. Lucille is and always has been the ONE. The one he still hears whispering his name and calling to his soul; the sound of her whisper is sweet music to his ears.BB King's Lucille

The King is now long in years at 88 and the groove in his step is not quite what it used to be. Yet, she can still make his heart sing and fill with joy. The thought of her in his arms, the weight of her body pressed against his as his hand caresses her neck, pulling her body close to his — it still gives him a thrill, one that will never be gone.

To this very day, they sit on his throne together, just the King and his Queen. A love affair few can fathom. After all these years, he stills looks at her with a love so consuming that it’s like he becomes the Blues Boy again. The King and his Queen were matched before time began, they were meant to play the blues…O’ Lucille…BB King & Lucille

The story itself could be written about almost any guitarist who’s spent more time with his or her guitar than with another living soul. All that time spent alone, day after day with no one but a guitar. A bond forms when they start to understand that guitar better than they do other people. The relationship is set, a lifelong connection that one may even mistake for true love. Just look at the greats — Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and, of course, B. B. King. The thing they all have in common is a defining love for a guitar. These are the ones touched by greatness.

After watching the King onstage holding one of many versions of Lucille that has passed through his hands, there was a sense of emotion that came over me. I knew it didn’t matter which version he held — it was the spirit of the original Lucille, the infamous Gibson ES-345 rescued from the flames of a burning building. That spirit of Lucille takes hold, lifting not only your heart and soul, but the King’s as well. It’s what’s keeping him young and doing what he knows. He remains on tour, playing packed houses. If that’s not love, then what is it?BB King  H5A7106

Lucille wasn’t always Lucille; in fact, she didn’t get her name until the winter of 1949. The name “Lucille” didn’t come from a woman the King had once been romantically enamored with, as one might suspect. The King was in Twist, Arkansas, playing a gig at a dance in the winter of 1949 when a fight between two men broke out. It was over a woman who just happened to be named Lucille.

During the fight, a burning barrel of kerosene used to heat the building was knocked over. Flames spread throughout the building quickly, forcing everyone to be evacuated. Once outside, the King realized he had left his guitar inside, so he ran back in and rescued her. The next day, when news of two fatalities from the fire reached the King, he counted his blessings and vowed never to do anything as stupid as running into a burning building again. He named his guitar and every guitar since Lucille as a reminder to never run into a burning building or to fight over a woman.

BB King _H5A6730

Lucille in itself is not the love story here; the real love story is the blues. Music from a fire that burns with passion and heart — a gift poured out through each version of Lucille every time she is played. That, my friend, is the true love story — one of a man, his guitar and the music. It’s a gift from a King and his Queen given to the world in complete generosity. The man and his guitar have lived a lifetime of music and they have lived a lifetime of the blues together. It may be my overactive imagination that romanticized this story, but I choose to believe to this day he is still in love with her — a guitar as if she were his first true love, evident by the smile she brings to his face every time he runs his fingers over her neck and strums her strings, making her sing for us all.

A true love story indeed!

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B.B. King and Lucille: A Timeless Love
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