The BB King “Blues Box”
BB King was the stage name of Riley Benjamin King (1925 – 2015), the BB being short for ‘Blues Boy’. He was one of the three ‘Kings’ of blues guitar – along with Freddie King and Albert King. BB King had a sophisticated soloing style, built upon exquisite phrasing, fluid string bending and his trademark Butterfly vibrato. He is known mainly as a soloist and singer – having once told Bono of U2, that he (BB King) was “no good with chords“.
This post explores the “BB King Blues Box” – this is a particular set of notes with the root on the B string that BB King often used. It typically just uses the top 3 strings. Other guitarists have used this sound – one of my favourites is Peter Green’s playing on Fleetwood Mac’s version of “Need Your Love So Bad“. Robben Ford is also a sophisticated user of this sort of sound in his blues playing.
The BB King Box/Scale
This is a minor pentatonic scale, where the flat 7 is replaced by the major 6th. This is a way to subtly mix major and minor pentatonics – the first half of the scale could be considered a minor pentatonic scale due to the flat third and the second half of the scale as a major pentatonic due to the major 6th. In playing this scale BB King often makes use of the 9th (major second) degree of the scale as well to bend up a tone to the major third.
This scale fragment works best over a dominant 7 blues – there are certain notes that will clash, especially with the IV chord, if used with a minor blues.
The diagram above shows the BB King Box shape with the root on the B string. The main box is shown with solid notes – the rest of the position notes are shown as unfilled circles. The box shape tends to be used on the top 3 strings mainly. The numbers in the circles show the scale degrees.
- BB King often also uses a chromatic note inserted between the 4th and 5th on the top E string.
- He often slides between the notes on the G string
- Bending especially of the 7th fret B string and 7th fret E string is encouraged.
- BB King often likes to use the fifth interval starting on the 7th fret E string dropping to the 5th fret B string and then applying his butterfly vibrato.
Looking at how this scale fragment fits over the IV7 and V7 chords of a dominant blues shows how well this scale fits. The root notes are all present as well as most of the chord tones.
Have a play around with the shape and see how it feels and works over the chord progression. The best way to hear this sound is to look up some of BB Kings performances on YouTube such as the song “The Thrill is Gone” (Below). Not only will you hear these ideas in practice but also see and hear his amazing vibrato technique.
Backing Track for a slow blues in E
Backing Track for a Blues Shuffle in E (Faster) – This video shows the chord names as they are played, if you dont know them.
More information on playing from the man himself in the video below. It is also worth checking out the other videos of this BB King teaching tape – especially the soloing portion. Check to the suggested videos on the right hand side or explore the channel.
If you fancy guitar lessons in Bristol, then get in touch. Until then, have fun.