BB King Gibson Lucille guitar in Gardiner Houlgate auction

‘THE most influential bluesman of his generation’ is how one newspaper rated BB King when he died earlier this year.

The Gibson guitar used by BB King for his 80th birthday album, on sale at Gardiner Houlgate estimated at £10,000-20,000.
The Gibson guitar used by BB King for his 80th birthday album, on sale at Gardiner Houlgate estimated at £10,000-20,000.

He outlasted most of them, dying at 89, and in later years his fame and fan club had gone far beyond the blues musical genre. On his death, tributes came from musicians as diverse as Eric Clapton, Roger Daltrey, Gloria Estefan, Bono and Elton John.

The respect BB was held in is encapsulated by a guitar on offer at Gardiner Houlgate’s two-day musical instruments sale staged just outside Bath on September 17-18.

The Gibson ‘Lucille’ model electric guitar, made in the US, was used by BB during the recording of the album BB King & Friends: 80 in 2005.

This album marked his 80th birthday and comprised a series of duets. Making the guitar even more desirable, the singers in those duets signed the instrument on its body: Clapton, Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler, Billy Gibbons, Daltrey, Glenn Frey, Sheryl Crowe, Estefan, Bobby Bland – and BB himself, also dating it 4-18-05.

Consigned by a private source, a lady who bought the guitar at auction in 2010, the guitar is now estimated at £10,000-20,000.

A Guardian obituary says BB was a “dedicated player of Gibson guitars”, and he was featured in advertisements for the company, “which created a special model named after the succession of Gibson ES 355s that he called Lucille”.

According to rollingstone.com: “For more than a half-century, the bluesman and Lucille have been virtually inseparable — few, if any, relationships between man and guitar have persevered for as long or proven more fruitful.”

So, why ‘Lucille’? Again, rollingstone.com explains: “Lucille’s beginnings date to 1949, when King, then in his early 20s, was performing at a nightclub in Twist, Arkansas, in the dead of winter. To heat the cold room, King recalled in a video interview, ‘they would take something that looked like a big garbage pail, half fill it with kerosene, light that fuel [and] set it in the middle of the dance floor’.

“All well and good, but on this night, a fight broke out between two men, and the pail was knocked over. ‘It spilled on the floor, it looked like a river fire,’ the guitarist said. Everyone started to run for the front door, including BB King.

“The bluesman managed to make it to safety outside — only to realise he had left his guitar behind. He raced back inside to retrieve it even as the wooden building, he said, ‘started to fall in around me’. The next day, he learned that two men had died in the blaze and that the fight that had set off the tragic chain of events had been over a woman who worked at the club. Her name was Lucille.

BB, who claimed he almost lost his life rushing back into the nightclub, christened his guitar after her, he said, “to remind me never to do a thing like that again”.