B.B. King: From Indianola to Icon

Charles Sawyer

Author/photographer Charles Sawyer’s association with B.B. King began in 1968 and led to his authorized 1980 biography The Arrival of B.B. King. This coffee-table production is no sequel, but a lavishly illustrated memoir of Sawyer’s relationship and encounters with King (with, at times, more details than necessary about the author himself). It abounds with candid shots, many unseen, and tales of milestones in King’s career, like his 1970 performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

In most ’60s and ’70s shots, King plays his red ES-355TDSV, later replaced by the signature Gibson Lucille. A set of 1978 shots from New York’s Bottom Line capture him onstage with guest George Benson toting an L-5. Later sections feature King and band members performing at Harvard University for a blues class being taught by Sawyer.

Sawyer’s camera captured close-ups of King adjusting the B-string saddle on his 355. Elsewhere, King describes the original 1980 Lucille as a Gibson acoustic with DeArmond pickup. He complains of frequent problems keeping his Gibsons in tune. Frustration over intonation problems with his signature Lucille led him to make an unannounced visit to the company’s Memphis factory. The result was two new Lucilles that stayed in tune.

This article originally appeared in VG’s January 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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