B.B. King, at 84, is the greatest Blues guitarist in the world.  In 2003, Rolling Stone named B.B. King as the third best guitarist in the world out of 100.  There is a secret few people know about B.B. King and his ability to play the guitar and I will share it with you now.

You would think the third best guitarist in the world would be a master with the guitar in all relationships and aspects.

It isn’t true.

B.B. King cannot, and will not, play chords! 

I know that doesn’t seem to make sense in the whole of it, but you can see the evidence yourself in U2’s 1988 documentary “Rattle and Hum” as Bono goes over a new Blues song he’s written for B.B. called “When Love Comes to Town.”

In the scene below from the movie, you will see how the song unravels as B.B. and Bono discuss the lyrics — and then watch at 2:17 when B.B. says to Bono, “I’m no good with chords.  So what we do is get somebody else to play chords.”

Bono quickly comforts B.B. and tells him, “We’ll get The Edge to play chords.” 

As the scene continues, you see B.B. playing his great guitar Lucille and singing and, sure enough, in both rehearsal and performance, there’s The Edge standing there playing the chords for the song.

It was a great relief to see the great B.B. King afraid to play chords because it makes him human and vulnerable and it gives great comfort to the rest of us Blues learners who struggle with changeable chords and barre chords and getting the right, great, sound.

Most of us know none of The Beatles read music — but learning that Blues great B.B. King won’t play chords somehow makes all the hard times practicing a little less calloused and cutting — and that is yet another legacy the great B.B. King has gifted the rest of us.


  1. That’s a news David…but I won’t mind – this guy is a genius…and you are right – confessing the same makes him more human.

  2. That’s amazing, David. I can’t believe that BB King can’t play chords. You’d think, “Oh, chords. Anyone who can play guitar can handle chords, right?” Yet it doesn’t diminish his genius at all.

  3. Chords are the touchstone of the guitar, Gordon, and the fact that B.B. was obviously a soloist all his life is another fascination in his long musical history.

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