One of the greatest musicians in American history passed away earlier this month. B.B. King died on May 14, 2015 at the age of 89. His guitar playing, blues singing, songwriting, and tireless touring for well over fifty years made him one of the most famous American celebrities throughout the world. Decades of success with very little drop in integrity and quality of musicianship and showmanship made him truly the “King of the Blues.”
B.B. King’s most famous connection with Arkansas involved his adventures in Twist, Arkansas. The following is a transcript of the story he told many times throughout his career:
“Well, in 1949, I used to play a place in Arkansas called Twist, Arkansas. I know a lot of people laugh when I say that, but there is such a place and geographically speaking, it’s about 45 miles Northeast of Memphis, Tennessee. So I used to play this little place, this little night club, quite often. And in the winter, it would get quite cold in Twist, Arkansas. So they used to take something like a big garbage pail. They’d set in the middle of the floor, dance floor that is, and half fill it with kerosene. They’d light that fuel and that’s what we used for heat. The people dancing would generally dance around it. You know, when you’re young, you do some foolish things. But one night, two guys started to fighting, and one knocked the other over this container. And when they did, it spilled on the floor. When it spilled on the floor, it looked like a river of fire. And everybody started to run for the front door, including B.B. King. But when I got on the outside, I realized I’d left my guitar. And in ’49, believe me, keeping a good guitar, that was a hard job. People would borrow it without your permission. Anyway, I went back for my guitar. And when I did, the building was a wooden building, burning rapidly, and it began to collapse around me. So I almost lost my life trying to save my guitar. The next morning, though, I found out the two men were fighting over a lady that worked in the club. I never did meet her, but I learned that her name was Lucille. I named my guitar “Lucille” to remind me never to do a thing like that again.”
In 2010, the Black History Commission of Arkansas issued a grant for two historical markers to be placed near the site where the nightclub once stood in Twist, forever commemorating B.B. King and his guitar, Lucille.
B.B. King’s most famous song is “The Thrill is Gone.” I prefer to remember him by another of his hits, “Let the Good Times Roll.” As long as pure, heartfelt music like the blues of B.B. King can be heard and enjoyed, the thrill will never be truly be gone.