B.B. King not only influenced rock and roll, he was playing before rock and roll existed. B.B. King was born in 1925. After an impoverished upbringing on a Mississippi cotton plantation in the segregated South, King traveled from town to town doing performances and picking up guitar and singing techniques as he went.
King’s cousin was the blues singer Bukka White. White and other early blues musicians such as T. Bone Walker influenced his guitar technique. King’s performances eventually earned him a spot playing on the WDIA radio station. Around this time people began to refer to him as “The Beale Street Blues Boy” and eventually just B.B. King.
By the early 1950s King was signed to RPM Records. King put together his own band with a horn and rhythm section to back him up. After scoring a series of hit singles in the ’50s, ’60s and early 70’s B.B. King continued to record albums, tour, and perform extensively up until his death in 2015 at age 89.
B.B. King’s soulful, emotional yet precise guitar techniques would influence musicians for decades to come including The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour to name just a few.
# 10 – Worried Life Blues
We open our top 10 B.B.King songs list with the great track “Worried Life Blues.” Originally recorded in 1941 by Big Maceo Merriweather, B.B. King released a hit cover version of “Worried Life Blues” in 1970. King’s version of “Worried Life Blues” went to number forty-eight on the singles chart. “Worried Life Blues” is an old blues standard.
“Worried Life Blues” has also been covered by the likes of King’s contemporary blues artists Muddy Waters and Junior Parker. “Worried Life Blues” is based on an eight-bar blues format and has a faster beat than much of King’s other work. B.B. King’s version is not available on youtube so we have presented the great version B.B. King recorded with Eric Clapton.
# 9 – Rock Me Baby
First composed in 1951 by Lil’ Son Jackson, B.B. King covered the song in 1964. King’s version of “Rock Me Baby” is undoubtedly the most popular. “Rock Me Baby” was B.B. King’s first top forty single, reaching number 34 on the pop charts. “Rock Me Baby” exposed B.B. King’s music to both black and white audiences.
Musically “Rock Me Baby” has a mid-range tempo with the focus on B.B. King’s frequent guitar breaks. “Rock Me Baby” also prominently features piano, although his full horn section is still present. This gave “Rock Me Baby” a more accessible, grooving sound than many of King’s early singles.
# 8 – Caldonia
Originally written by Fleecie Moore. King’s cover version of “Caldonia” came out in 1971 on King’s nineteenth album B.B. King in London. B.B. King in London featured an all-star musical lineup. Contributing to the recordings were Ringo Starr, Steve Marriott, Alexis Korner, Steve Winwood, and Dr. John. Peter Green’s guitar playing is especially heard in “Caldonia” providing a rhythmic counterpoint to King’s emotion-laden blues guitar explorations. King’s version of “Caldonia” features a full early 70’s blues rock sound.
# 7 – Ten Long Years
Appearing on King’s very first record, 1956’s Singin’ The Blues. “Ten Long Years” was one of a series of hits for King. “Ten Long Years” reached number nine on the charts, cementing B.B. King’s reputation as a blues recording artist. Though the focus of “Ten Long Years” is on B.B. King’s emotional voice and virtuoso guitar playing “Ten Long Years” is augmented by a full band sound with bass, piano, drums, and a full horn section.
# 6 – Sweet Little Angel
Originally recorded as “Sweet Black Angel” in 1930 by Lucille Bogan. B.B. King’s cover made several alterations from the original version of “Sweet Black Angel”, including changing the title to “Sweet Little Angel.” King’s arrangement of “Sweet Little Angel” had a more full, upbeat sound than its predecessors with a full horn section complementing King’s voice and guitar. B.B. King’s cover of “Sweet Little Angel” appeared on his 1956 debut album Singin’ The Blues. “Sweet Little Angel” became an early hit for King and reached number six on the segregated “Black Singles” chart.
# 5 – Big Boss Man
First recorded in 1960 by Jimmy Reed, B.B. King released a cover version of “Big Boss Man” late in his career. B.B. King’s version of “Big Boss Man” was released on his 1985 album Six Silver Strings. “Big Boss Man” became a surprise hit for B.B. King. “Big Boss Man” utilizes a typical twelve-bar blues format but with a faster tempo than many of King’s other songs. The single “Big Boss Man” went to number sixty-two in the R&B charts proving that despite his age B.B. King was still a strong singer and performer as capable of performing hits in 1985 as he was in 1956.
# 4 – How Blue Can You Get
First recorded in 1949 by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers. “How Blue Can You Get” was written by husband and wife Leonard and Jane Feather. B.B. King’s version was released on his 1963 record Blues in My Heart. Musically “How Blue Can You Get” is a slowed down twelve bar blues number. B.B. King’s cover of “How Blue Can You Get” features stronger vocals and a thicker sound than earlier versions due to King’s large band.
B.B. King’s ”How Blue Can You Get” hit ninety-seven on The Billboard Hot 100. “How Blue Can You Get” became a staple of King’s live shows for the remainder of his long career, appearing on numerous live B.B. King albums. “How Blue Can You Get?” has been covered by artists as diverse as Duke Ellington, The Rolling Stones, and Fleetwood Mac.
# 3 – 3 O’Clock Blues
First written and recorded in 1946 by Lowell Fulson. B.B. King and Jules Taub worked on the arrangement for King’s version of “3 O’Clock Blues.” “3 O’Clock Blues” was B.B. King’s first major hit as a recording artist. “3 O’Clock Blues” spent five weeks at number one on the Rhythm and Blues Charts, making King into an R&B success practically overnight.
“3 O’Clock Blues” appeared on King’s first album, 1956’s Singin’ The Blues. The music in “3 O’Clock Blues” is based around a slow tempo twelve bar blues format. “3 O’Clock Blues” was notable for its full sound and multiple notable session musicians including Ike Turner on piano and Evelyn “The Whip” Young on the saxophone.
# 2 – Every Day I Have The Blues
An old blues standard, King’s cover of “Every Day I Have the Blues” was based on an arrangement by earlier bluesman Memphis Slim. Maxwell Davis contributed heavily to King’s new arrangement of “Every Day I Have The Blues.” “Every Day I Have The Blues” was very well received by the public hitting number eight in the R&B charts. King’s version of “Every Day I Have The Blues” won a Grammy award in 2004. “Every Day I Have The Blues” first appeared on King’s very first album, 1956’s Singin’ The Blues.
# 1 – The Thrill is Gone
“The Thrill is Gone” was originally written in 1951 by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell. B.B. King scored one of the biggest hits of his career with a 1970 cover version of “The Thrill is Gone”. “The Thrill is Gone” is one of King’s best known songs. “The Thrill is Gone” earned King a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1970.
“The Thrill is Gone” hit number three in the R&B charts. King’s version of “The Thrill is Gone” hit number fifteen on the Billboard Hot 100 pop charts. “The Thrill is Gone” is a melancholy, minor key twelve bar blues song featuring strings and excellent production. The focus of “The Thrill is Gone” is on B.B.’s soulful voice and emotional, often improvised blues guitar solos. “The Thrill is Gone” debuted on King’s 1969 album Completely Well.
Updated July 11, 2023
Top 10 B.B. King Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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