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The Story Behind How B.B. King's Guitar "Lucille" Got Her Name

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
April 14, 2023 3:01 am

The Story Behind How B.B. King's Guitar "Lucille" Got Her Name

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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April 14, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Neil Young has "Old Black", Willie Nelson plays "Trigger", and Elvis worked with "The Dove", but perhaps the most famous nickname for a guitar is what B.B. King named his Gibson ES-355...Lucille. Here to tell the fiery story of how she got her name is B.B. King's longtime friend, Myron Johnson, and Daniel de Vicé, author of King of The Blues.

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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb

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See for details. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. To search for the Our American Stories podcast, go to the iHeartRadio app, to Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Neil Young has Old Black, Willie Nelson has Trigger, and Elvis Presley had The Dove, but perhaps the most famous nickname for a guitar is what B.B. King named his Gibson ES355, and that is Lucille. Up next, the story of how that guitar got its name. Here to start us off is B.B. King's longtime friend, Myron Johnson, followed by Daniel Davisse, author of The King of the Blues. Let's get into the story.

Oh, that story's been repeated and told and I'm amazed that it's remained consistent as it has over the years because, you know, you can start a conversation at one end and after it passes through four or five people, it comes out on the other end completely different than what it started, but very consistent with that in that. B.B. was doing a performing at a jig joint. Sort of an off the books joint in the black community. In Twist, Arkansas.

Which is named for a white family called Twist. There was probably a sharecropping community. And doing his performance while he was on stage, these two guys ended up finding out that they were romancing the same woman. A beautiful server in this jig joint.

And they got into a fight over this woman. And back in the day, jig joints ran year round. And during the cold months, wintertime, they would take a big barrel, like you would see a big oil barrel nowadays, and they would fill it up with kerosene and wood. And they would light that and set it on fire. Put that up in the middle of the room and it would radiate with the people mingling around and what have you.

It would radiate the heat coming off of that. Well, these two guys got into a fight and tussling and wrestling. They knock over a kerosene lamp and it starts a fire. Kerosene just flew across the floor and the fire went with it on top of that kerosene and it just looked like a wave of fire coming at you. And it set the place on fire. Well, Bebe, like everybody else, jumped up and commenced a run and getting the hell out of there.

Trying to save his life, trying not to get burned up. Because these places were shanties. It wasn't much to them. They went up like a cinder box.

It wasn't much to them. So the place became engulfed in flames and everybody headed for the exit along with Bebe. And he got outside and realized that in his haste to protect his butt that he had left his guitar on the stage. Bebe King rushes in to get his guitar so it doesn't burn up because he can't afford to buy another one. You know, times were hard.

Guitars and money was hard to come by. And he was like, my guitar. He turned around and ran back inside. And he got it. But before he could get out, the place collapsed around him. And he had some severe burns from that. And he showed me the scars before he died and he got burned pretty good. And I guess as he's cradling his smoking guitar outside of the burning remains of the juke joint, he hears somebody say, oh man, that Lucille, she started the whole thing. And he decided to name his guitar Lucille to remind him of that moment. And as he put it, to never do anything that stupid again. Because the guitar, as important as it was to him, it wasn't worth his life. And he came close to losing his life that night. But that was the gist of that story.

That's how that came about. And we don't really know when it happened. I think some of the official accounts say it was in 1949. Others say it was 1950. There's a marker in Twist Arkansas, which I think says it was in the early 50s. But you don't see a mention of Lucille anywhere in print. And I swear this to you, until 1967. Which made me wonder, wait, did they brand Lucille in 1967?

Did they create the name then? Which wouldn't have surprised me. So I went back and asked Sue, his ex-wife, and people who played with him in like 1949, 1950, 1951, I said, was Lucille a thing? Yes, yes, I guess she was.

I guess that B.B. King called his guitar Lucille and was calling her Lucille by about 1950. This according to people who actually were playing with him in 1950.

And it was just an inside thing, an inside joke if you will. Lucille's identity wasn't known outside of Mr. King's inner circle until he starts talking about her first with the black press, then with the white press in 1967. This is when he has a record coming out that's called Lucille and a song wherein he tells her story. The original Lucille that was left in the fire, that guitar was stolen years ago, many years ago. As he put it, he was after the fire, he was going to visit a friend. This was a lady friend or a guy friend.

All he said, told me was that he was going by to visit a friend. And back in that day, while he put his guitar, he put Lucille in the trunk of the car. And back in that day, you had, for example, GMC, General Motors, would make a car.

Well, they might make different model cars, but the key to the trunk was generic and fit every model that they made. So, he left the guitar in the trunk, went in to spend time with his friends, come out, someone had keyed the trunk and taken Lucille. And, you know, to this day, don't know who took her, where she is, if she even exists at this point.

But B.B. had a number of guitars between the fire and the time he passed and B.B. was playing them, he named them Lucille. Every guitar he ever played after that, he named Lucille. The story of how Lucille came to be, that is the name of B.B.

King's guitar. This is Our American Stories, more after these messages. Lee Habib here, the host of Our American Stories. Every day on this show, we're bringing inspiring stories from across this great country.

Stories from our big cities and small towns. But we truly can't do this show without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, go to and click the donate button. Give a little, give a lot.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-14 04:26:28 / 2023-04-14 04:30:54 / 4

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