Learning the Blues/BB King - Three O'Clock Blues

B. B. King is considered one of the most influential blues musicians of all time. King is known for his unique style, ability to cross genres and his long playing career.

King started recording in the 1940s and had his first national hit, "Three O'Clock Blues," in 1949. His many hits include "Let The Good Times Roll", "The Thrill is Gone", and "Rock Me Baby".

King played over 300 concerts a year until he was in his seventies. King was inducted into the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" in 1987 and won 16 Grammys throughout his career, including A Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.


B.B. King recorded "3 O'Clock Blues" for RPM Records around September 1951. The recording took place at an improvised studio in a room at the Memphis YMCA and the resulting audio quality was lower than recordings by Sam Phillips, who had recorded King's previous singles. Nonetheless, writer Colin Escott notes that the song "clicked where the others hadn't [perhaps due to] the new found drama and urgency in B.B.'s singing [and] the interplay between his voice and guitar, heard for the first time on record". The mingling of these two elements was brought to the forefront by the distant, subdued sound of the accompanying musicians.

King's version is a slow (65 beats per minute) twelve-bar blues notated in 12/8 time in the key of C. Blues historian Robert Palmer sees King's guitar work on the song as showing his T-Bone Walker influences, "though his tone was bigger and rounder and his phrasing somewhat heavier". He borrowed Walker's technique of repeating a pitch on neighboring strings by sounding a note then sliding up to the same pitch on the successive lower string. This method allows the player to shift to higher position while creating a unique effect that emphasizes "tonal contrast". King also used melisma, a vocal technique found in gospel music, in which he bends and stretches a single syllable into a melodic phrase. Unlike Fulson, King used a full backing arrangement, including a horn section (including Evelyn Young on saxophone) and Ike Turner on piano