Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

King of the Blues

The Rise and Reign of B.B. King

by Daniel de Visé

The first full and authoritative biography of an American—indeed a world-wide—musical and cultural legend

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 496
  • Publication Date October 18, 2022
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5806-2
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $20.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 496
  • Publication Date October 05, 2021
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5805-5
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $30.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date October 05, 2021
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5807-9
  • US List Price $30.00

“No one worked harder than B.B. No one inspired more up-and-coming artists. No one did more to spread the gospel of the blues.”—President Barack Obama

“He is without a doubt the most important artist the blues has ever produced.”—Eric Clapton

Riley “Blues Boy” King (1925-2015) was born into deep poverty in Jim Crow Mississippi. Wrenched away from his sharecropper father, B.B. lost his mother at age ten, leaving him more or less alone. Music became his emancipation from exhausting toil in the fields. Inspired by a local minister’s guitar and by the records of Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker, encouraged by his cousin, the established blues man Bukka White, B.B. taught his guitar to sing in the unique solo style that, along with his relentless work ethic and humanity, became his trademark. In turn, generations of artists claimed him as inspiration, from Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton to Carlos Santana and the Edge.

King of the Blues presents the vibrant life and times of a trailblazing giant. Witness to dark prejudice and lynching in his youth, B.B. performed incessantly (some 15,000 concerts in 90 countries over nearly 60 years)—in some real way his means of escaping his past. Several of his concerts, including his landmark gig at Chicago’s Cook County Jail, endure in legend to this day. His career roller-coasted between adulation and relegation, but he always rose back up. At the same time, his story reveals the many ways record companies took advantage of artists, especially those of color.

Daniel de Visé has interviewed almost every surviving member of B.B. King’s inner circle—family, band members, retainers, managers, and more—and their voices and memories enrich and enliven the life of this Mississippi blues titan, whom his contemporary Bobby “Blue” Bland simply called “the man.”

Praise for King of the Blues:

Longlisted for the PEN America Jacqueline Bogard Weld Award for Biography
Named a Best Arts Book of the Year by
Library Journal

“A fluent read of a major artist’s evolution . . . de Visé has dived deeply into the world of an American master and discovered that the guitar god was mortal after all . . . The author is at his best when homed in on King’s sound.” —Preston Lauterbach, Wall Street Journal

“A comprehensive and unfiltered look at the complex musical giant . . . De Visé tells King’s fascinating story with great detail and fluid prose . . . King of the Blues helps encapsulate his incredible life and his enduring legacy.”—Jackson Clarion Ledger

“Adds flesh and blood to the standard cultural codification of King as icon. It presents a career full of ambition and a life informed by longing, with triumphs and setbacks, discrimination and canonization.”—Houston Chronicle

“A full-blown hero’s journey . . . Filled with interviews with King’s relatives, band members and managers, the resulting biography feels at once intimate and encyclopedic, offering a full picture of the man behind the myth.”—AARP

“B.B. King, who died in 2015 at age 89, gets the royal treatment from his biographer, and rightly so . . . Essential.”—David Wesley Williams, Chapter 16

“As blues royalty and one of the 20th century’s most influential musicians, B.B. King has long deserved a well-considered biography that places his achievements in a cultural and historical context. This is it . . . Interweaves tales of American history, pop culture, racial relations, music theory, and much more to fully demonstrate King’s significance . . . Magnificent . . . The thrill is here, as B.B. King finally gets his due in this first meticulous account of his historic life.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist De Visé (The Comeback) amply demonstrates his masterful storytelling and research skills in this definitive look at legendary blues musician B.B. King . . . An intimate portrait of a cultural luminary . . . Even readers who aren’t fans of the blues will be engrossed by this nuanced look at an American icon.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The definitive biography of blues master Riley ‘B.B.’ King . . . Engaging. The book expertly interweaves King’s music career into the U.S. social fabric, especially the civil rights movement. With this fast-moving, informative, evenhanded, and exhaustive biography, de Visé vividly captures King’s life.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“De Visé tells King’s story in the context of his swirling times, intertwined with profiles of historic people and events musical and otherwise. A fine portrait of an iconic musician.”—Booklist (starred review)

“B.B. King was a marvelous man and an international ambassador for the blues.  King of the Blues tells the extraordinary story of his life in great detail, and a wonderful story it is.  A fitting tribute to a great artist.”—John Landis, director of The Blues Brothers, Animal House, Trading Places, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller

“Like hopping onboard B.B.’s tour bus for a ride straight to the heart of the blues. Told me about the B.B. I knew and a few other B.B.s as well. I loved them all.”—Shemekia Copeland, three-time Grammy-nominated Alligator Records recording artist

“The name B.B. King now resonates with longevity amongst blues lovers and music enthusiasts alike. With more than six decades of noteworthy expressions of a great American art form, B.B. King’s guitar playing and singing hold a strong place with an unmistakable sound of his professional and effervescent personality. Get a head start within these fine pages for an intimate trip with B.B. King’s lifetime attachment to creativity. B.B. is truly King of the Blues, oh yeah!”—Billy F. Gibbons, guitarist and singer, ZZ Top

“Mr. de Vis­é meticulously dives deep into why and how young Riley, who graced this planet from a world of extreme complications, was able through his talent, relentless drive and humility, to rise to the deserved title ‘King of the Blues.’ Get your records out and enjoy the read. I did!!”—Robert Cray, five-time Grammy-winning blues guitarist and singer-songwriter

“B.B. King, one of the great bluesmen of all time. Can any other person hold one note on the guitar and make it say so much? Daniel de Visé’s book on B.B. King is a great read.”—Joan Armatrading, three-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and guitarist

“B.B. King was the stone truth, the man who took down home uptown and, yes, the undisputed king of the blues. This, his first full and authoritative biography, is both right on time and long overdue. Dan de Visé has done a solid for music lovers everywhere.”—Leonard Pitts, Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning national columnist and author

“De Visé writes beautifully. His command of narrative is compelling. The level of detail he amassed is awesome.”—Charles Sawyer, author of The Arrival of B.B. King: The Authorized Biography

“Extremely thoughtful, thorough and insightful.”—David Ritz, biographical collaborator with B.B. King, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin, and biographer of Marvin Gaye

Praise for The Comeback:

“[A] blend of chaos, kindness and cruelty typifies the scenes that journalist de Visé brings to life in this sympathetic-verging-on-reverential retelling of LeMond’s trailblazing career (first American to enter the tour, first to win it) . . . As an author in quest of his protagonist’s motivation, [de Visé] subjects it to extreme torque.”—Allan Fallow, Washington Post

“Most American fans of the Tour de France focus on the now-discredited achievements of Lance Armstrong [but The Comeback] sets the record straight. With Armstrong’s victories invalidated, LeMond is the only American to capture the Tour de France, winning in 1986, 1980, and 1990 . . . The new book documents LeMond’s significant contributions to the sport, maybe underestimated by casual racing fans . . . Other books have profiled LeMond’s achievements, but The Comeback offers more depth.”—Lou Dzierzak, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“The real hero, the name everyone should know, is Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France and the man who came back from a terrible hunting accident to win it for a third time by eight seconds, the closest finish in race history . . . De Visé keeps his focus on LeMond while writing a second biography of Laurent Fignon, LeMond’s rival in the 1989 race and a compelling, complicated figure in the history of cycling.”—Jeff Baker, Seattle Times

“A great book . . . Well written and thoroughly researched . . . Engrossing and hard to put down. If you’re a Greg LeMond fan, The Comeback is a must-read because it’s a detailed accounting of his career and—more importantly—his life and person off the bike. It’s also an important reminder that American cycling did not begin and end with Lance Armstrong.”PEZ 

“A thoroughly well-researched work about Greg LeMond’s cycling exploits from childhood races, impressive pro career, postcareer life, and business pursuits . . . [The Comeback] documents LeMond’s entire career, not just his heroic comeback from a near-fatal hunting accident . . . De Visé’s account stands out owing to its depth of coverage, captivating prose, and variety of historical and contemporary news sources. An impressive read for anyone interested in cycling.”Library Journal

“Veteran journalist de Visé takes on a big story with that of LeMond . . . [De Visé] sometimes writes with the techno-geekery of the bicycle acolyte and sometimes with the breeziness of a practiced sportscaster . . . It’s a pleasure to ride in the peloton alongside LeMond, who emerges from this account as America’s once-and-future cycling great.”Kirkus Reviews

“De Visé provides detailed accounts of a dizzying number of races throughout LeMond’s career . . . Vivid description of the sport as one of physical torture . . . [De Visé] lays bare the undeniable facts of Greg’s amazing talent. That he achieved all he did without the benefit of doping, without the support of an American cycling team, and with a catastrophic injury in mid-career, is remarkable. Greg’s life is a story worth understanding and his name is one worth knowing, especially in light of the string of discredited riders who followed him.”New York Journal of Books

“The story of LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France, is one of extreme rises and falls—physically, emotionally and publicly—and yet Armstrong emerged as the media darling, both during his high-profile career and the epic fallout from his doping scandal. For author and journalist Daniel de Visé, the disparity in recognition was vexing, and with his new biography, he hopes to promote the legacy of the true king of American cycling.’”La Crosse Tribune

“Greg LeMond was Lance Armstrong before Lance Armstrong—and he won his three Tours de France WITHOUT cheating. The Comeback is the story of a true hero and his remarkable comeback to win arguably the most dramatic Tour de France in history. This is a must read if you believe in miracles.”—John Feinstein, bestselling author of A Season on the Brink and The First Major

The Comeback is an eye-popping ride, sweeping the reader through the extreme eccentricities of endurance cycling. But the heart of the story, the charismatic spirit and recrowning of America’s authentic cycling champion Greg LeMond, is what makes you cheer through the pages.”—Diana Nyad, author of Find a Way and the only person to swim between Cuba and the United States

“Once in a blue moon a sportsbook comes along appealing to such a broad audience that it becomes a perennial favorite of neighborhood reading groups—Boys in the Boat and Seabiscuit being prime examples. Now make way for The Comeback by Daniel de Visé, a superbly well-crafted narrative. For devotees of the sport of bicycle racing, and for those with little knowledge of it, this book will satisfy in every way.”—Paul Dickson, author of Bill Veeck and Leo Durocher

“Greg LeMond is an American sporting hero whose story would surely be rejected by Hollywood as too fanciful. It includes taking on and beating the French at their own game, a near-fatal shooting, a career in apparently terminal decline, an extraordinary comeback, and a bitter feud with his successor. Remarkably, it’s all true, and The Comeback is the first book to document the full LeMond story in all its astonishing, scarcely credible detail.”—Richard Moore, author of Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault and the Greatest Tour de France and host of The Cycling Podcast

“Daniel de Visé explores one of cycling’s epic duels, on the final day of the 1989 Tour de France when America’s Greg LeMond had recovered from a life-threatening shotgun blast to score a heroic come-from-behind triumph over France’s Laurent Fignon. In The Comeback, de Visé portrays the complex personalities of LeMond and Fignon in a narrative freighted with nuanced analyses, thorough research, and a narrative that rocks.”—Peter Joffre Nye, author of Hearts of Lions and The Fast Times of Albert Champion

“Daniel de Visé’s meticulously researched story of the professional and personal life of LeMond is an epic saga of America’s preeminent cyclist’s rise to the sport’s pinnacle followed by his near-death from a hunting accident and amazing return to capture his second and third Tour de France victories. De Visé also chronicles the rise of doping in professional cycling near the end of LeMond’s racing career. LeMond’s reputation was at considerable risk as he challenged Lance Armstrong’s denials and duplicity and fought to clean up a sport that had been severely damaged by the almost universal use of banned drugs for too many years. Even those with little familiarity with the often arcane aspects of bicycle racing will be caught up in the drama, excitement and nuances of the sport. Highly recommended!”—Bob Bowen, President, U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame