By Lily Rothman
May 15, 2015

B.B. King – the music legend who died on Thursday evening – was the blues. It’s even right there in his name: B.B. stands for “Blues Boy,” a name that King (real first name Riley) adopted after moving to Memphis to make it in music. He came to Memphis in 1948, in his early 20s.

But, though he had the emotional depth and technical skill to cut it, it took decades for his name to be in lights.

As TIME reported in a 1969 profile of the by-then-famous bluesman, King and his guitar — nicknamed Lucille — just didn’t fit in with the musical tastes of the time:

Within a year, he was playing some of the nation’s most important venues — the Fillmore Auditorium, the Village Gate — and touring Europe.

“People are starting to go with me,” King told TIME back then. “I think it’s because they know I’m not kidding out there. Blues is a message, and they’re getting it.”

Read the full 1969 story, here in the TIME Vault: Blues Boy

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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