Whose Guitar was named Lucille

Best Selling Lucille Guitar

The guitar he named Lucille after a near-death experience belonged to B.B. King. King of Blues was known for his distinct soloing style – but his musical act consisted of a duo with his instrument, which he named after a woman he never met.

While not every guitarist cares about their instrument, Jimi Hendrix used to set his on fire after all; some strummers form such a bond with their instruments that they would brave the very flames Hendrix was conjuring to save them. Thus, the legend of B.B. King and Lucille is born in flames and fighting, the quintessential blues duo.

‘King of the Blues B.B. King became one of the most influential figures in music history, with many pointing to his unique riffing as inspiration for the growth of rock and roll from blues to full-fledged rock and roll. Whether Willie Nelson’s dilapidated ‘Trigger’ or Robert Johnson’s mysterious seven-string, numerous sacred guitars have been fundamental in music’s development. However, none seems quite as important to its owner as Lucille did to King. This is a point proven in the song ‘Lucille’, an ode to the guitar itself, in which B.B. sings: “Lucille saved me from the plantation / She brought me fame / She brought me out of poverty.” Those lyrics represent the near-divine potential of early popular music to offer deliverance from hardship, but perhaps the very tale of Lucille’s life is even more compelling.

There are mystic overtones throughout the story, just like in any good blues tale. Back when B.B. King was just a young upstart – a difficult thing to imagine in itself considering the musical statesman he would become – he would frequently play a nightclub joint called Twist in Arkansas.

In the practised speech, the blues star tells a story he has retold many times over: “Well, it used to get quite cold in Twist, and they would take this big garbage pail and place it in the middle of the floor to keep it warm.”. It was that type of heating system that we used in American dive joints at the time, only becoming a problem when the atmosphere got equally fiery. However, with blues riffs stirring and the booze flowing, that fiery atmosphere was never far from fruition.

“Two guys got to fighting,” B.B. “So they knocked the pale over, causing what looked like a river-fire to pour over onto the dance floor.” With the bar fire raging, everyone made for the exits, and  BB King included!

King realized he had left his guitar inside the burning building as he stood outside the burning building. It would have been a sad moment of goodbye for most people, but B.B. was not prepared to see it go. The moment he entered the burning bar was just as the ceiling collapsed, the most dangerous moment of any fire. Through the boozy inferno, he made his way back to his guitar, almost losing his life in the process. His cherished six-string remained under his arm as he emerged from the fire and headed straight for home.

Upon waking up the following day, it was revealed that Lucille, a woman working at the bar, had become the object of their fight. Adding the punchline to his remarkable true story, B.B. King said, “I named my guitar Lucille to remind me never to do anything like that again.”

More than 15 Grammy awards later, he remains an icon that transcends generations, defining sound and infusing today’s music with a particular soul often lacking. As a guitarist, he played countless guitars, mostly semi-hollowed bodied Gibsons, but every one of them afterwards was called Lucille.

Lucille is the song on B.B. King’s 1968 album by the same name where he expresses his love for her. As he tells us, “I’m crazy about Lucille. Lucille took me from the plantation, you could say, brought me fame.”

Lucille’s were King’s speciality, and he first performed one in a Twist, Arkansas, a dance hall in 1949. In those days, the room was heated by burning kerosene oil from a large barrel. During a fight, a barrel was knocked over, causing fire to spread quickly.

During the blaze, everyone fled to safety, except King, who ran back into the fire to rescue his $30 Gibson guitar. It turned out that the fight had been over a woman named Lucille, “and I have called her Lucille ever since,” he recalled.

B.B. King’s Lucille was traditionally a Gibson ES-335, though he owned many variations.

Eventually, B.B. King partnered with Gibson to create the Lucille guitar line – a modified Gibson ES-355. Lucille was a constant companion throughout his career, and they created beautiful music together. For example, in the hours after King had stopped singing orally, he started singing by playing Lucille.

According to Guitar Player magazine, King once said, “Fenders, Gretsches, Silvertones; you name it, I’ve probably had one. But when I found that Gibson with the long neck, that was like finding your soul mate.”

King and his beloved Lucille were separated for a short period. Four years earlier, on his 80th birthday, Gibson had presented the King of the Blues with a limited-edition Lucille. Unfortunately, this guitar went missing in 2009.

In a pawn shop in Las Vegas, guitar collector and appraiser, Eric Dahl came across the guitar with only the words ‘Prototype 1’ on its headstock.

Despite researching and calling Gibson and others, no one could explain the stamp on the back of the headstock. Finally, after learning that the guitar had been made for King for his birthday and had been his main guitar until it was stolen, Gibson told Dahl that it had been made for him.

Dahl and King met to reunite the bluesman with Lucille. Dahl was presented with an 80th Birthday Edition of “Lucille” signed by King that Gibson delivered to him the following day.

King and Lucille shared the stage for over 60 years, giving audiences standards such as “The Thrill Is Gone,” “Sweet Little Angel,” and “Ghetto Woman.” Additionally, they contributed to such contemporary artists as U2 on their live classic “When Love Comes to Town,” which brought their voices to new audiences.

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