Chances are, everyone has heard of B.B. King. But how much is known about his guitar?
Most of this is common knowledge. But, in case you didn’t know, here are some interesting facts surrounding B.B. King and his guitar Lucille.
B.B. King didn’t always play a guitar named Lucille. In fact, his early recordings on RPM Records featured him playing a Fender Telecaster. However, fairly early in his career, B.B. King switched to a Gibson ES-355, and played many variations of it, making it his primary guitar of choice.
His guitars weren’t always named Lucille. That is, until 1949. That winter, King was playing a dance hall in Twist, Arkansas. In order to heat the hall, a barrel half filled with kerosine was placed in the center of the hall and lit on fire. This was common practice at that time. While King was on stage, two men began to fight, and knocked the barrel over, causing the hall to go up in flames. Everyone ran out in a panic. Once outside, King realized he lad left his prized $30 Gibson guitar inside the building, and he ran back in to save it. The next day, King learned that the two men were fighting over a woman named Lucille. King named that guitar Lucille, to remind him never to do something as stupid as run back in a burning building for a guitar, and never to fight over a woman. Two people died in the fire. King was almost the third fatality.
Ine song has been recored directly about Lucille. The song, names Lucille, is included on the B. B. King Anthology 1962–1998 album. In the song, which is laced with solos, King praises the guitar, and lets the audience know the love he has for the instrument. In his words, ”When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille.”
The original Lucille, a Gibson ES-355TD-SV, has F-holes in it and more. Most modern versions of Lucille are made without the f-holes, at the request of King, to help reduce feedback. The modern ones also have different inlays and a maple neck.
In 2005, for B.B. King’s 80th Birthday, Gibson made a special run of 80 Gibson Lucilles, referred to as the ’80th Birthday Lucille’. The first prototype was presented to King as a birthday present. King used the guitar as his main guitar until the summer of 2009, when it was stolen from him. On September 10, 2009, Eric Dahl unknowingly purchased the stolen instrument from a pawn shop in Las Vegas. Upon researching information on the instrument, he was contacted by a Gibson Artist Relations representative, who informed Dahl of the stolen status of the guitar. This Lucille was returned to King in late November 2009, who was happy to receive his 80th birthday present back. Dahl was more than happy to return the guitar to King.
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