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(Credit: Heinrich Klaffs)

Music

Watch B.B. King change his guitar string while performing

Mississippi blues legend B.B. King is known as one of the godfathers of the rhythm and blues tradition. His unique and innovative approach to electric guitar blues made him a prominent name in the Mississippi Delta Blues scene during the 1950s and eventually earned him the nickname “The King of the Blues”. 

King’s solo heavy style was characterised by its fluid string bends, vibrato and staccato picking. His foundational work would ultimately inspire a generation of rock giants over the latter half of the 20th century, including Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck. To this day, King is a giant whose shoulders carry an unimaginable weight of rock and roll talent. 

While King released a wealth of landmark records during his seven decades as an active musician, he was only really at home while performing live on stage. After his rise to stardom, King performed relentlessly, racking up an average of more than 200 concerts per year. In 1956 alone, he appeared on stage for 342 shows. 

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With such exposure, King became quite the showman. On one occasion, having broken a guitar string and having no access to a spare instrument, he managed to change the string without having to pause the performance for one second. 

King was mid-way through ‘How Blue Can You Get’ during his show at the first-ever Farm Aid benefit concert at the Memorial Stadium, Illinois in September 1985, when his high E string snapped under the strain of his emphatic solo.

The camera cuts from King to the horn players about three minutes into the song. When it cuts back, the string can be seen dangling from the bridge of his Gibson ES-355 as he continues to play, sticking to the G and B strings.

About ten seconds later, a roadie can be seen running behind the band. Just as the vocal section of the track begins, the roadie hands a replacement string to King. Without a care in the world, he removes the broken string while nonchalantly persisting with the vocals and winding in the replacement. 

Available below, the footage perfectly sums up who B.B. King was as a personality and performer; a genuinely professional and devoted musician – effortlessly cool.