Music lovers all over the world are reacting with sorrow on hearing of the death of Blues legend B.B. King, who died in Las Vegas on Thursday at the age of 89.
King, who was born in Itta Bena, Miss. on Sept 16, 1925, had a close connection with Arkansas, playing juke joints on both sides of the Mississippi River in his early days before ascending to the heights of the Blues pantheon.
It was in one of those juke joints in Twist, Ark. that King’s legendary guitar Lucille got her name. Turns out there have been many Lucilles over the years, but the first Lucille, a Gibson L-30 archtop, was born of fire.
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. “And everyone started to run for the front door, including B.B. King.”
The bluesman managed to make it to safety outside — only to realize 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.
B.B., 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.”
A historic marker now stands along Highway 42 in Cross County, near the site of the Twist, Ark. juke joint where Lucille got her name.