NEW YORK: Blues legend B.B. King, known for his soaring guitar licks and as an inspiration for generations of musicians over a decades-long career, has died at the age of 89, his daughter said early Friday.
Patty King confirmed on CNN that her father, a singular figure in music history, died late Thursday.
The guitar legend, who had kept a rigorous touring schedule until last year, had issued a statement on May 1 saying he was entering hospice care at his home in Las Vegas.
News of King’s death elicited an array of tributes from musicians across genres who credited the guitarist as a towering influence.
“BB, anyone could play a thousand notes and never say what you said in one. #RIP,” a younger star guitarist and singer, Lenny Kravitz, wrote on Twitter.
The Canadian singer Bryan Adams tweeted: “RIP BB King, one of the best blues guitarists ever, maybe the best. He could do more on one note than anyone.”
Born to poverty in Mississippi as Riley B. King, the future legend learned to play a guitar that was given to him at age 12 by a plantation owner.
King mastered the instrument and he later christened his trusty guitar Lucille as he brought the blues to a mainstream audience —and also helped chart the course of rock.
He was invited in 1968 to perform at San Francisco’s Fillmore West, a haven for hippies, and a year later opened 18 US concerts for the Rolling Stones.
King’s signature song was “The Thrill is Gone”—full of the feelings of angst so often identified with the blues—melancholic music of Black American origin, usually in a 12-bar sequence—interspersed with biting guitar licks.
In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him the third greatest guitar legend after Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman and one ahead of Eric Clapton.
King developed his distinct style in the 1950s as he toured incessantly with his band. A natural entertainer on stage, he wove stories from the poor south with tales and jokes from his often colorful love life.
His guitar-playing focused not on speed or on sweeping chords but instead on well-chosen, sharp single notes.
He never took up the slide guitar like most Delta bluesmen, but substituted with a vibrato from his left hand on the neck that rounded out his unique sound.
King in his prime put in more than 300 concerts a year.
Despite suffering Type II diabetes for the past two decades, until recently he kept up a touring schedule that would tire many musicians far younger than him. But fans noticed that his recent performances became increasingly erratic and he finally ended his touring after falling ill at a show in Chicago in October.
“I have a disease which I believe might be contagious,” he told Agence France-Presse in an interview in 2007. “It’s called ‘need more.’”
But another reason King stayed on the road was in hopes of keeping the blues alive.
“With the exception of satellite radio today, I don’t hear no blues playing on the radio,” he also told AFP. “So one of the reasons I travel a lot is so I can carry the music to the people. Because if I don’t carry it, it don’t go on the air.”
Nonetheless, he was cited as an influence by a who’s who of musical greats including Clapton, who recorded the 2000 album “Riding With the King” with him. The album won a Grammy, one of 15 racked up by King during his career.
Other famous collaborations included the song “When Love Comes to Town” with U2.
Despite King’s decades of recognition, his final days were clouded by unseemly scenes amid a reported dispute between his family and manager over his care.