King's career spanned a whopping six decades
Throughout the course of his more than 60-year career, B.B. King released dozens of albums, did thousands of performances and spent more time playing guitar than some of us have been alive. Following his death at age 89 on Thursday, we look back at some of the most iconic performances from each decade of his legendary career:
‘Darlin’ You Know I Love You’
King released his first album, Singin’ the Blues, in 1956. It notched five charting singles, though this was back when Billboard filed blues, R&B, gospel, soul and early rock ‘n’ roll under its “Black Singles” chart (“You Upset Me, Baby” went to No. 1 on the chart). This clip is probably from the late ’50s – King is already playing his trademark Gibson 335 guitar, every one of which he famously named “Lucille.”
Unlike a lot of guitarists, King rarely sang and played at the same time. Instead, he would answer his own vocal lines with guitar licks, employing a distinctive “butterfly” vibrato with his left hand, which you can see in this 1968 performance.
‘I Believe to My Soul’
In 1974, King traveled to Africa to give a performance with a large orchestra backing him. James Brown was also on the bill, and the stadium packed a crowd of 80,000, one of whom was Muhammad Ali.
‘Into the Night’
This performance is of a song written for the 1985 film of the same name – directed by John Landis, which is why you see his goofy self bouncing around King in the intro. Also, check out who’s playing piano: Jeff Goldblum!
‘Blues Boy’s Tune’
First of all, look at that jacket. Second of all, if you didn’t know: That’s what “B.B.” stood for – “Blues Boy.” Bear in mind, he was 68 when this was filmed in 1993.
‘The Thrill Is Gone’
This was King’s signature song and his breakthrough hit, but as you can tell from this clip of him playing it about four years ago, in August 2011, the thrill of playing it never left him.
‘I Need You So’
King was still performing into his 80s, and for his performance at The Royal Albert Hall in 2011, he was joined by a generation of players who were influenced by his playing, like Derek Trucks, Slash and Ronnie Wood.