The high-pitched wail of the notes he coaxes out of the instrument, nicknamed Lucille, is salve to the soul of the nearly 80-year-old bluesman, who shows no signs of slowing down as he prepares to kick off a world tour.
It's been a good year for King, named by Rolling Stone magazine as the third-greatest guitarist of all time. He's recording a new album of duets with Elton John, Eric Clapton and Gloria Estefan, a memorabilia book bearing his name soon will be released, and he recently broke ground on the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretative Center in this small Mississippi Delta town.
Yet King, acclaimed around the world, still laments what he believes is a lack of respect for blues music in America, where radio stations mostly play hip-hop, pop and rock.
"We get treated poorly," he says. "I'm thinking about the younger ones, who are coming along today, not B.B. We've had several superstars, like the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, like the young Robert Cray, and they don't get play. They don't get exposed."
Blues music is a historical form, inspiring rock guitarists such as Clapton and Jeff Beck, but radio stations don't consider it as commercially viable as other genres, says Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor of Rolling Stone.
"That certainly doesn't mean it's not significant. How much jazz gets played on the radio?" DeCurtis says.
Floyd Lieberman, King's manager, says there's been a slight resurgence of the blues with the advent of XM Satellite Radio, on which King serves as Mayor of Bluesville.
The blues channel has 4 million listeners, Lieberman says, but "Jackson, Miss., stations play more blues than New York. That's the problem."
At his recent museum groundbreaking, King took a break from his fans, finding a comfortable chair to relax his hefty frame. Family and friends urged him to eat mini muffaletta sandwiches, broccoli and fruit to help control his diabetes.
King gently pushed the food aside; he wanted to talk.
He reminisced about his early years, working as a laborer on a cotton plantation in the heart of the Delta. And without a hint of bitterness, he explained how difficult life was back then for the man born Riley B. King on Sept. 16, 1925.
"I was a regular hand when I was 7. I picked cotton. I drove tractors. Children grew up not thinking that this is what they must do. We thought this was the thing to do to help your family," says King, who now lives in Nevada.
The interminably humble bluesman envisions his museum, to be located at the site of the brick cotton gin where he once worked, as a conduit for Delta youth trying to escape the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. Many in the community hold King up as the standard of success.
"In the Delta, they think he can walk on water," says Carver Randle, one of King's longtime friends.
As a young boy in the 1950s, Randle remembers seeing King drive his Cadillac around Indianola when the musician was in town visiting relatives.
"There was a time when nobody, black people or white people, cared for the blues. And in spite of that, B.B. stuck with the blues," says Randle, now an attorney. "Anybody, whether they're in politics, law or education, would do well to just emulate what B.B. has done."
The museum, to be finished by 2007, will be a $10 million, 18,000-square-foot edifice, showcasing the various phases of King's career with a state-of-the-art theater, a studio and artifacts. Organizers have raised about half the cost of the project through private donations, no small feat in town of about 12,000.
King's long career took off in 1948 after he performed on a radio program on KWEM out of West Memphis. He's been cutting tracks ever since, with perhaps the best-known being "The Thrill Is Gone" in 1970 or "Three O'clock Blues" in 1951.
In 2000, he collaborated with Clapton to record "Riding With the King."
He's made countless appearances in Europe, where he says the people have long memories.
"Tunes that we made many years ago, they know them today. They don't belittle you because you sing gospel or you sing blues. We get that at home sometimes," he says, moments before a group of fans from France had their picture taken with him.
Blues music was born out of the hardships of black people, who sang as they worked on cotton plantations in the Mississippi Delta. King's single-note playing style sets him apart from other musicians, DeCurtis says.
"B.B. has a very specific kind of style, very lyrical. He doesn't play a lot of notes. In a slow blues arrangement, you can really hear the kind of elegance of his playing. He's not down and dirty," DeCurtis says.
King plays about 150 dates a year, but it's not because he needs the money.
"He hasn't had to work since he was 65 years old," says Lieberman, King's manager for 41 years. "He's financially sound."
Lieberman says the upcoming duets album, to be released before King's birthday, won't all be blues songs, but King doesn't believe that should be interpreted as infidelity.
"Who said I'm supposed to do nothing but traditional blues music?" King says. "Blues players like to hear other things like other people."