In 1949, the legend goes, B.B. King ran into a burning building to save a guitar he loved. The dance hall he’d been playing at in Twist, Arkansas, caught flame when two men knocked over a barrel of fuel while fighting about a woman. The woman’s name was Lucille—and from that point on, King’s guitar was named Lucille, too.
Though Gibson would later launch a B.B. King Lucille model, and King indeed favored that company’s instruments, there wasn’t just one Lucille. Most any guitar he’d play would get the name.
Much like how the name came to stand in for the instrument, King’s name came to stand, in the public’s imagination, for the kind of music he played. When people today talk about the blues, they’re talking in part about B.B. King; when they talk about B.B. King, they’re talking about the blues. The two concepts are the same.
Credit that fact to King’s talent, which launched him from Mississippi sharecropper to worldwide sensation who influenced generations of musicians. “The tone he got out of that guitar, the way he shook his left wrist, the way he squeezed the strings ... man, he came out with that and it was all new to the whole guitar playin' world,” guitarist and friend Buddy Guy wrote today on Instagram upon learning that King had died at age 89. “He could play so smooth, he didn't have to put on a show. The way BB did it is the way we all do it now.”