Shake It Up And Go : B.B. King (part one)©2008JCMarion


Riley King was born in 1925 near Indianola, Mississippi. He lost his mother at an early age and spent the great part of his youth working the farms and picking cotton throughout the Mississippi delta area. Influenced by the church in his youth, he began to play the guitar and sing some gospel songs of the time. By the time he was eighteen years old , young Riley King earned his keep as a tractor driver. On his spare time he performed in public on the local street corners singing and playing. In 1944 King received a military deferment that kept him out of the army. Two years later he decided to move up the river to the city of Memphis and try his hand at following his musical skills. He located his cousin, blues singer Bukka White, with whom he stayed for almost a year. White schooled young King on the rudiments of the blues and stage presence. In 1948 King began to get time on local radio and also his first paying music gigs. He guested on the King Biscuit program with Sonny Boy Williamson on KFFA and KWEM in West Helena, Arkansas, and on WDIA radio in Memphis where he had his own show called The Sepia Swing Club. It was then that King got his nicknames-first "Pepticon Boy" for the Hadacol-like all purpose elixer (with a heavy alcohol content), then Beale Street Blues Boy, and then finally to the short and to the point - B.B. He played local club dates and also entered amateur talent contests at the Palace Theater mc'ed by Rufus Thomas.

In 1949 B.B. King made his first records for the Nashville independent label Bullet Records. The session was held in Memphis and the backing band was led by pianist Phineas Newborn. "Miss Martha King" and "When Your Baby Packs Up And Goes" on #309, and "Take A Swing With Me" and "Got The Blues" on # 315. The records were heard by the Bihari Brothers based in Los Angeles who owned Modern Records and their new R & B label RPM. They contacted King and set up a recording session for them and signed King to a contract. The sessions were supervised by Sam Phillips who was soon to form Sun Records in Memphis. B.B. King set up his backing band which featured Phineas Newborn or Ike Turner on piano, along with Willie Mitchell on trumpet, Ben Branch and Hank Crawford on saxes, Calvin Newborn on second guitar, Tuff Green on bass, and Earl Forrest on drums.

In late 1950 "Mistreated Woman" and "B.B. Boogie" is released by RPM on # 304. This is followed by "Walkin' And Cryin'" and "Other Night Blues" on # 311. In March of 1951 "My Baby's Gone" and "Don't You Want A Man Like Me?" is released by RPM Records on # 318. By the next month interestingly enough, "My Baby's Gone" is the 'A' side in the Midwest while the flip side is the big seller on the West Coast. In July "She's Dynamite" is released by RPM on # 323 ("B.B. Blues"). A month later "She's A Mean Woman" and "Hard Working Woman" is released on # 330. The song quickly becomes a good seller in the Southeast and gulf states areas. B.B. King begins to be a solid record seller and a performer who is in demand for in person appearances. Late in the year "3 O'Clock Blues" and "That Ain't The Way To Do It" is out on RPM # 339. "Blues" takes off quickly in Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Memphis, and is soon a national R & B hit and B.B. King's first big country wide seller. Because of his new status as a nationally recognized singer and musician, King plays a week at the Howard Theater in Washington D.C. with Tiny Bradshaw and the Tab Smith band. RPM issues # 348 - "Fine Looking Woman" and "She Don't Want Me No More". In April of 1952, remaining in the East B.B. signs up for a tour of one nighters with H-Bomb Ferguson and Milt Larkin. In May "It's My Own Fault Darlin" and "Shake It Up And Go" are released by RPM Records on # 355, followed in June by "Some Day Somewhere" and "Gotta Find My Baby" on # 360. In August RPM issues "You Know I Love You" and "You Didn't Want Me" on # 363. In November B.B. King joins Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown for a Battle Of The Blues on Thanksgiving Night at the Municipal Auditorium in Houston, Texas. In mid December "Boogie Woogie Woman" and "Story From My Heart And Soul" is released by RPM on # 374. "Woman" immediately becomes a big seller in Atlanta and Jacksonville.

In January of 1953 B.B. starts out the new year with a number of one nighters throughout the South and Texas with the Bill Harvey Orchestra. It is then that King signs a new three year recording deal with the Bihari Brothers at Modern / RPM / Flair / Crown Records in Los Angeles. "Story From My Heart And Soul" is a good seller in the Southeast markets. In early February B.B. forms a new band. This one features Floyd Jones on trumpet, George Coleman on sax, Connie McBooker on piano, James Walker on bass, and Ted Curry and Charles Crosby on percussion. "Woke Up This Morning" on # 380 ("Don't Have To Cry" on the flip side) starts off well in the Midwest, especially in St. Louis. In March of the year, Sam Phillips who first recorded B.B. King in Memphis, and Jim Bulliet of Bullet Records in Nashville start up a new R & B label based in Memphis to be called Sun Records. In March B.B. takes part in a special musical party for Houston, Texas booking agent Evelyn Johnson which also includes Lloyd Price, "Gatemouth" Brown, and Marie Adams. In June "Please Love Me" and "Highway Bound" on RPM # 386 is a pick hit of the week in the trade press, and is also an immediate seller in New Orleans, Houston, and Atlanta. In September B.B. King appears at the Persing Hotel Lounge in Chicago. That month "Please Hurry Home" and "Neighborhood Affair" are recorded for RPM on # 391. In October King sets off on a bunch of one nighters with Gladys Hill and Bill Harvey kicking off with an appearance at the Texas State Fair. On Thanksgiving night King joins Johnny Ace and Willie Mae Thornton for a big holiday show in Houston, Texas. On December 4, King appears at the annual WDIA "Goodwill Revue" benefit show in Memphis. Also on the bill are Muddy Waters, Lloyd Price, Eddie Boyd, Little Walter, Helen Thompson, and a number of gospel performers. In December "Blind Love" and "Why Did You Leave Me?" is released by RPM on # 395. Closing out the year, "Blind Love" has big sale numbers in a number of national markets making B.B. a consistent seller throughout the country.

In early 1954 "Blind Love" is now selling well on the West Coast, especially in the San Francisco Bay area. The King show with Gladys Hill and Bill Harvey now tours the West Coast after good attendance in the South and Southwest. In February RPM keeps up the B.B. King sides with "Please Help Me" and "Praying To The Lord" on # 403. Early in the month B.B. breaks previous attendance records at the 5-4 Ballroom in Los Angeles and picks up an award from Hunter Hancock area dj for sales and popularity of his records. In March the Juke Box Operators poll of top money makers lists B.B. King second only to Fats Domino in all of R & B music. That month "The Woman I Love" and "Love You Baby" are released by RPM on # 408 as the label titles him B.B. "Blues Boy" King. In an Easter Sunday show in Houston, King sells out the house. In May "Don't You Want A Man Like Me?" and "Everything I Do Is Wrong" on # 411 is out. B.B. with the Bill Harvey band play the Apollo Theater in New York in late May. Earl Forrest and Mildred Jones are also on the bill. In July "When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer" and "Bye Bye Baby" is released on # 412. In late August a show presented by Hunter Hancock at L.A.'s Savoy Ballroom headlined B.B. King, and also featured Marie Adams, Peter Lewis, Anna Marie, Marvin & Johnny, Shirley Gunter & The Queens, The Platters, Lamplighters, and Junior Ryder. Close to three thoudsand were turned away which resulted in a near riot at the room. In October B.B. King breaks out with another instant seller in "You Upset Me Baby" on # 416. The flip side is "Whole Lotta Love". In December Modern Records of Los Angeles celebrates the fifth anniversary of B.B. King's career in the music business and is presented as one of the top selling artists in the R & B field. He is presented with a gold record award by Johnny Otis. B.B. finishes out the year with a tour of one nighters on the West Coast. RPM Records states that "You Upset Me baby" is King's biggest seller ever.

In Jamuary of 1955, reports in the trade press list B.B. King as one of a very few R & B artists that sell on their name rather than on the particular song that they record. "Everyday I Have The Blues" and "Sneakin' Around" is issued on RPM #421. In February, Alan Freed plans his very first extended engagement R & B show as live entertainment returns to the Brooklyn Paramount. B. B. King is naned as one of the stars of the show. In April "Jump With You Baby" and "Lonely And Blue" is released on #425. King starts on a five week tour of one nighters through the Midwest. In June "Shut Your Mouth" and "I'm In Love" are paired on RPM # 430, and is followed the next month by "Boogie Rock" and "Talking The Blues" on # 435. King does a big show with the band of Louis Jordan in Chicago on Labor Day weekend in Chicago. B.B.'s new band also features vocalist Harold Conner. B.B. King continues to be a top draw in Houston. His Christmas night show in that city was a complete sellout and safety officials from that city ordered a stop to ticket sales because of the huge crowds. "What Can I Do?" and "Ten Long Years" is issued on #437 by RPM. At year's end King is busy with a West Coast tour and RPM releases "Ruby Lee" and "I'm Crackin Up Over You" on # 450.

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