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Bearing the label 'Style _______ / Gibson ES 355TDC / Number ______ / is hereby / GUARANTEED / against faulty workmanship and materials / Gibson INC. / KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN / U.S.A.', the inlaid logo Gibson at the face of the headstock, and the serial number 894756 stamped on the reverse, the truss rod cover engraved 'STEREO', the internal tone block ink stamped '1010', the bound ebony fingerboard with block inlay position markers, the finish of a cherry-red color, with original case; accompanied by various documents concerning the provenance and grey nylon tour jacket
18 ½ in. (46.4 cm.), length of back
Riley B. "B.B." King.
Cato T. and Polly R. Walker.
Inherited by their daughter Lora E. Walker.
Robert W. Orr.
Thence by descent to the present owner.
S. Danchin, Blues Boy: The Life and Music of B. B. King. Jackson, Mississippi, 1998.
M. Lydon, Flashbacks: Eyewitness Accounts of the Rock Revolution, 1964-1974. New York, 2003.
R. Bienstock, "The Legacy of Lucille: The Surprising Story Behind B.B. King’s Guitar", Rolling Stone (US), May 2015.
D. Hunter, Ultimate Star Guitars: The Guitars That Rocked the World, Expanded Edition.
J. Landau, "The Newport Folk Festival: 1968 Torn between two worlds: a review of the music fest", Rolling Stone (US), August 1968.
P. Lauterbach, "Riding with the King: Meet the woman who's kept the world's most famous bluesman on schedule for more than 50 years", Memphis Magazine, Memphis, May 2007.
G. Mitchell, "Be Bop and B.B." AP News, September 1988.
M. Sager, "B.B. King: What I’ve Learned", Esquire (US), 2006.
B.B. King: The Life of Riley, Director, Jon Brewer, 2012.

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Lot Essay

When Riley B. “B.B.” King died aged 89 in 2015, he left behind a musical legacy spanning six decades as the “King of Blues”. Since he first started recording in the 1940s, King released over sixty albums, toured extensively - averaging hundreds of shows every year, and defined the blues for millions with one of the world’s most identifiable guitar styles. From humble beginnings on a cotton plantation in Indianola, Mississippi, he became one of the most influential musicians of all time, cited by almost every major blues and rock musician that followed him, from Eric Clapton and George Harrison to Jeff Beck and Bono.

One of the first to kick off the trend among musicians for naming their favorite guitars, B.B. King was famously inseparable from “Lucille” for over 50 years, often joking that she was the only woman in his life. "The minute I stop singing orally," King once said, "I start to sing by playing Lucille." What sets “Lucille” apart from Eric Clapton’s ‘Blackie,’ for example, is that there isn’t just one “Lucille”, but a procession of guitars throughout his career, all of which were given the moniker. The legend of Lucille dates to the winter of 1949, when a young B.B. famously rushed into a burning dancehall in Twist, Arkansas, to rescue his guitar, at that time an inexpensive Gibson L-3 archtop, after two men knocked over a barrel of burning kerosene while brawling over a girl by the same name. Having similarly risked his own life, King determined to give his guitar the name “Lucille” as a reminder "never to do anything that foolish again."

After experimenting with Fenders, Gretsches and Silvertones in his early years, the bluesman has become best known for playing Gibsons, and specifically the semi-hollowbodied stereo ES-355, telling Guitar Player magazine in 2007: "when I found that little Gibson with the long neck, that did it. That’s like finding your wife forever." The ES-355 remained his guitar of choice from first use in 1967 until he collaborated with Gibson on the B.B. King signature model in 1980, named the Lucille.

Photographs suggest that King acquired two top-of-the-line cherry red stereo ES-355s around the same period circa 1967, one with a standard Gibson Maestro vibrato and the other with a Bigsby vibrato. Along with its distinctive Bigsby tailpiece, the present guitar is easily distinguished from its counterpart by the Grover tuning machines rather than the standard Klusons, a black plastic surround under the toggle switch gromet, and the inversion of the neck pickup so that the poles are toward the bridge rather than the neck. When US journalist Michael Lydon accompanied King on tour in late 1968, he noted that "the present Lucille - a red Gibson with gold frets and mother-of-pearl inlay" - was Lucille number seven. One could therefore surmise that this guitar is probably Lucille number 6, 7 or 8, as it is certainly one of the first two cherry red ES-355s that B.B. was spotted with.

A defining year for B.B. King, 1968 saw him play to a predominantly white crowd for the first time at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West, boosting his reach to a wider audience and enabling him to break into the pop charts. Courted by the stars of the blues-rock counterculture who idolized him, King began casually jamming with musicians like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, leading to a supporting tour with The Rolling Stones in 1969. He would also release the album Lucille, the title track appropriately dedicated to his faithful companion. King chose this Lucille, with the Bigsby tailpiece, for another landmark performance the same year at Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, on 27 July 1968, as seen in photographs by David Gahr and Elliot Landy. Joining a hot line-up of contemporary folk-rock artists that included Big Brother and the Holding Company, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, King’s setlist included Every Day I Have the Blues, How Blue Can You Get?, Sweet Sixteen and Please Accept My Love. Reviewing the festival for Rolling Stone magazine, Jon Landau declared "I think B. B. King is the greatest blues singer I have ever heard and probably the greatest guitarist as well. He made Buddy Guy and Junior Wells’ afternoon performance look mighty tame by comparison… it was nice to see him break loose towards the end and put down a mean, mean, Sweet Sixteen." Photographs by Walter Iooss show King, clothed in a snappy orange suit, playing this same ES-355 at an unidentified New York City club the same year - possibly at the Generation Club where B.B. played a run of shows in April 1968.

A December 1969 feature in Guitar Player Magazine noted that B.B. was at that time playing a flashy red Gibson stereo model (ES355TD): "I like the neck, it's easy to get to the last position in a hurry." Likely referring to either this guitar or the aforementioned sister cherry red ES-355TD, the article continued "He also likes the position of the tone controls. He uses Fender Rock 'n' Roll strings because he likes an unwound "G" string. He plays with a medium-to-stiff pick, usually a tortoise shell." Although few photographs have surfaced, the noticeable playing wear and signs of perspiration, together with King’s intense touring schedule, suggest that the present guitar was used extensively on stage through the late 60s and 70s.

In 1983 this ES-355 was gifted by B.B. King to his longtime friends and employees, Cato Jr. and Polly Walker of Memphis, Tennessee. Well known in the Memphis music scene, the Walkers became involved in King's professional organization in the early days of his touring career, after Polly grew up across the street from B.B.’s Memphis home. Her husband Cato Walker Jr. drove the musician’s tour bus “Big Red” from 1952 until he retired due in 1976, King continuing to pay Cato’s salary until his death in 1988. Interviewed for the magazine in May 2007, Polly recalled "I went to work [for B.B.] in '55. Memphis was a home base to B.B., and he needed things done here, but they were always on the road." Latterly assisted by daughter Lora, Polly continued to work as King’s travel coordinator and secretary for over fifty years. Lora Walker, who inherited the guitar upon her mother’s death in 2008, agreed to sell the instrument to the consignor’s late husband in July 2018, following a prior introduction through mutual friend John “Jabo” Starks, who had been B.B. King’s drummer from 1972-1977.

The present “Lucille”, dating from a defining period in B.B. King’s career when he began to break out as a popular artist and gain recognition from the burgeoning rock audiences of the late 1960s counterculture, is one of the most significant and well-documented “Lucilles” to come to market.

Of the many guitar innovations from Gibson, the thin and semi-solidbody (or semi-hollowbody in today's parlance) electric guitar was a game changer for many musicians. Since 1936 Gibson had been producing and successfully marketing electric guitars starting with the ES-150. From these early beginnings Gibson's "Electric Spanish" line grew with improvements and upgrades to body design and materials, along with pickup design and placement. But viewed as a whole, these were all essentially archtop acoustic guitars with added electronic amplification. Though serving well as a rhythm instrument in big bands and jazz accompaniment the electrically amplified hollow bodies suffered from feedback issues at higher volumes. In 1952, Gibson introduced their first solid body guitar, the Les Paul Model. The solid body with little acoustic properties solved the issue by controlling feedback from the pickups while increasing tonal sustain and a tenor tambour. Realizing the needs of the guitarist who desired an electric guitar with the outline of a traditional archtop, without the typical 3 3/8 inches of depth nor the weight of the Les Paul, Gibson merged their already successful "Thinline" models with the ideas that drove a solid-body to create a guitar that had the attributes of both. The new model released in 1958 was the ES-335TD. The width of the body was 16 inches but only 1 5/8 inches in thickness. It would have two Humbucker pickups mounted into a solid maple tone block attached to the top and back and running the full length of the body. No one can deny the design theory mirrored that of Les Paul's guitar from 1941 he called "The Log".

The success of the semi-hollowbody was swift and Gibson added new and upgraded models to the line. 1959 saw the release of the ES-355. The multi-bound body was fit with a bound ebony fingerboard with pearl block inlay, "split diamond" pearl inlay at the headstock, and gold-plated hardware. Through the production history of the ES-355 it was almost always fit with a vibrato tailpiece. The earlier examples used a Bigsby vibrato and by 1961 Gibson's "side-pull" vibrato was standard while the Bigsby was available by special order. The stock finish would be a deep and brilliant red lacquer referred to as "cherry-red" and by the end of 1959 the guitar would be available with a stereo wiring and a six position tone control Gibson called the Varitone. It now carried the model designation of ES-355TDVS. The versatility of the instrument proved successful and by 1960 the 355 had quickly found a dedicated following among electric guitarists of all genres. Keith Richards, Alvin Lee, Chuck Berry, and David Justin Hayward are all dedicated ES-355 players but the guitar received its widest exposure and was made iconic by the virtuosity of B.B. King.

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