Blues legend B.B. King died late last night, at 89, in his Las Vegas home, relatively peacefully. He’d been one of those guys who logged 100 shows a year even pushing 90, but he’d been laid up after canceling a 2014 jaunt due to dehydration, exhaustion, and other such complications of diabetes. You may be thinking of doing the grim thing where you spend today listening to the music of the guy who just died, and you should, and I’d start with the above, one of the tenderest love songs ever written. It’s called “Lucille,” and it’s about his guitar.
Billboard has the best, deepest obituary going this morning, and near the end it sneaks this quote in: “About 15 times, a lady has said, ‘It’s either me or Lucille.’ That’s why I’ve had 15 children by 15 women.” King was born in Mississippi, but his superhero origin story starts in Twist, Ark. (“I know you never heard of that”), when he saved his beloved Gibson from a burning building after two guys fighting over a woman managed to set the place on fire. No points for guessing the woman’s name. From there, man and musical wife spent more than half a century generating what Robert Christgau once called “an inexhaustible source of satisfaction.”
Which means there’s an exhausting amount of stuff to absorb if you’re trawling Spotify or whatever—1965’s monster Live at the Regal; 2000’s Eric Clapton jam Riding With the King if you’re into genuflecting rock ‘n’ roll dudes (sure, his Rattle and Hum cameo works for that, too, if you’d rather watch Bono do it); Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2011 if you just want to listen to an octogenarian who can still tear shit up—but “Lucille” is your essential 10-minute primer, a Batman-and-Robin tale where it’s not quite clear which one’s which. Take the verse where she returns the favor and saves King after a car accident by holding up the overturned car: The story’s funny enough that you laugh, and the song surrounding it—the whole career, really—is astounding enough that you believe it.