When you think of B.B. King, the words "music icon" and "blues" come right to mind. In fact, his name is synonymous with the latter — he's not known as the King of Blues for nothing, after all.
Over the course of his multiple decades long career, King's music and unmistakable guitar talents have helped shape many of today's biggest bands and guitar players, even collaborating with a few of them before passing away just a few years ago in 2015.
Born in Mississippi in 1925, B.B. King (real name Riley B. King) was raised by his grandmother after losing his mother at just nine years old — his parents had divorced when he was five. B.B. dropped out of school in 10th grade, and in addition to other jobs, would sing gospel songs on a local street corner to earn money and began to study music. After being a part of a radio show, he began playing at a bar in Memphis six nights a week, and it was here that he heard the electric guitar for the first time.
King's first No. 1 hit happened in 1953 with "3 O'Clock Blues." Fast-forward over 60 years later, and the Blues King has scored numerous accolades for his music, including a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, 15 Grammy Awards (out of 21 nominations), a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a Blues Hall of Fame Induction, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music, and so much more.
Today, B.B.'s legacy lives on through his music, but also through the inspiration he's given to many of today's biggest rock stars, musicians and guitar players. Take a look at some of them below.
ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons once told Rolling Stone of the impact that B.B. King has had on him from a young age, "It's difficult to fathom a world without B.B. King. He's been with me literally since the dawn of my musical consciousness. I first encountered him when I was a small child. My father was a musician and would take me around to studios in Houston. We met B.B. King at ACA Studios when I was, maybe, 7. He made a huge impression on me and that encounter continues to resonate."
The Rolling Stones
B.B. King opened for the Rolling Stones during a 1969 tour at New York City's famous Madison Square Garden. According to NME, during the rock band's first-ever Twitter Q&A, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards both remembered King by sharing their memories of him. Mick wrote, "I was just looking at a picture of me and BB backstage at Madison Square Garden," adding, "He played with us at a lot of gigs on that tour. We last played with him in a blues concert at the White House. It's sad. He had such a huge, long career. It's sad that we won't be listening to him live anymore."
Keith shared, "BB was a great guy. He was one of the true gentlemen, and I shall miss him a lot. At least we have his records. Farewell, BB."\
B.B. King was a big inspiration to Eric Clapton. In Clapton's autobiography, he called King, "without a doubt the most important artist the blues has ever produced." And after the King of Blues passed away, Eric said in a Facebook video of the music icon, "I want to thank him for all the inspiration and encouragement he gave to me as a player over the years and for the friendship that we enjoyed. There's not a lot left to say because his music is almost a thing of the past now and there are not many left that play it in the pure way that B.B. did. If you're not familiar with his work I would encourage you to go out and find an album called B.B. King Live at the Regal, which is where it all really started for me as a young player."
Jimi Hendrix himself has been extremely inspirational in rock music, but even he drew influence from B.B. King. As Jimi took an interest in music, especially after getting his first guitar, King was one of his influences while learning to play. In fact, later on, the two once performed together in New York City at a memorial concert for Martin Luther King Jr.
In the late '80s, U2 collaborated with B.B. on a bluesy rock song off the band's 1988 Rattle and Hum album called "When Love Comes To Town." In the documentary, B.B. King: Life of Riley, Bono opened up about what it was like to work with the blues legend and his incredible talent. He said, "You know, I felt we were pretty popular at the time, No. 1 records, on the cover of Time magazine. I gave it my absolute everything I had in that howl at the start of the song, and then B.B. King opened up his mouth and I felt like a girl." Bono added, "We had learnt and absorbed, but the more we tried to be like B.B., the less convincing we were." Finally, he described the music icon as "a lesson in grace."
Gary Clark Jr.
In 2016, Gary Clark Jr. helped to pay tribute to B.B. King during the Grammy Awards in a performance along side Bonnie Raitt and Chris Stapleton. King was inspirational for Gary while learning to play the guitar, and once told Rolling Stone of the blues icon's "Three O'Clock Blues," "I recorded this to cassette when I was younger. I'd reference it when I was learning to play. It's a story of 'I'm up late. Where's my woman?' A classic."
When you think of Santana, you immediately think of his iconic guitar-playing abilities, something that has definitely been influenced by the likes of other great guitar players — like B.B. King. In fact, after King passed away, Santana had said in a statement to Time, "His one of a kind sound was an inspiration to an entire generation of musicians, including myself. He will be missed by millions of fans and by countless musicians."