3 O'Clock Blues

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"Three O'Clock Blues"
Single by Lowell Fulson
B-side "I'm Wild about You Baby"
Released 1948 (1948)
Format 10" 78 rpm record
Recorded Oakland, California, June 1946 (1946-06)
Genre Blues
Length 03:05
Label Down Town (Cat no. 2002)
Writer(s) Lowell Fulson
Lowell Fulson singles chronology
"Blues and Misery"/ "Jam that Boogie"
"Three O'Clock Blues"
"Come Back Baby"

"3 O'Clock Blues" or "Three O'Clock Blues"[1] is a slow twelve-bar blues recorded by Lowell Fulson in 1946. When it was released in 1948, it became Fulson's first hit. When B.B. King recorded the song in 1952, it became his first hit as well as "one of the top-selling R&B records of 1952".[2]

"3 O'Clock Blues" effectively launched King's career and remains part of his concert repertoire. The song was included on his first album, Singin' the Blues and since has appeared on several King albums, including a remake in 2000 with Eric Clapton for the Riding with the King album.

Original song[edit]

Lowell Fulson recorded "Three O'Clock Blues" during his first recording session for Oakland, California-based record producer Bob Geddins in 1946.[3] Fulson, who sang and played guitar, was accompanied by his brother Martin on second guitar. Together they produced "some of the most memorable post-war country blues performances".[4]

The song lyrics start out "as an insomniac's lament, but end up a with a weepy farewell more suited to a suicide note":[5]

Well now it's three o'clock in the morning, and I can't even close my eyes ...
Goodbye everybody, I believe this is the end

By the time of the record's release two years later in 1948, Fulson's style had already evolved into a West Coast blues style typified by his hit recordings for Downbeat and Swing Time, such as "Every Day I Have the Blues" and "Blue Shadows". Nonetheless, "Three O'Clock Blues", became a hit and reached number six in the R&B chart.[6]

B.B. King rendition[edit]

Recording and composition[edit]

B.B. King recorded "3 O'Clock Blues"[7] for RPM Records around September 1951. The recording took place at an improvised studio in a room at the Memphis YMCA[8] and the resulting audio quality "was a step down from the standards set by Sam Phillips",[5] who had recorded King's previous singles. Nonetheless, the song "clicked where the others hadn't [perhaps due to] the new found drama and urgency in B.B.'s singing [and] the interplay between his voice and guitar, heard for the first time on record".[2] The mingling of these two elements was brought to the forefront by the distant, subdued sound of the accompanying musicians.[9]

King's version is a slow (65 beats per minute)[5]twelve-bar blues notated in 12/8 time in the key of C.[10] His guitar work on the song shows his T-Bone Walker influences, "though his tone was bigger and rounder and his phrasing somewhat heavier".[11] He borrowed Walker's technique of repeating a pitch on neighboring strings by sounding a note then sliding up to the same pitch on the successive lower string. This method allows the player to shift to higher position while creating a unique effect that emphasizes "tonal contrast".[12] King also used melisma, a vocal technique found in gospel music, in which he bends and stretches a single syllable into a melodic phrase.[11] Unlike Fulson, King used a full backing arrangement, including a horn section and Ike Turner on piano.

Charts and recognition[edit]

"3 O'Clock Blues" was released by RPM Records (no. 339) in 1951 and by December 29 entered Billboard magazine's Rhythm and Blues charts.[6] It spent a total of 17 weeks on the charts, including five weeks at number one.[6][13] In 1956, the song was included on B.B. King's first compilation album, Singin' the Blues (Crown no. CLP 5020).

"3 O'Clock Blues" launched B.B. King's career[2] and gave him his first opportunity to perform in front of national audience. Due to the song's success, he began performing in the big theaters, such as the Howard Theater in Washington and the Apollo in New York, with a significant increase in his weekly earnings, from about $85 to $2,500.[14] It sparked a touring schedule that continues today.[15] In 1956, the song was included on King's first album, Singin' the Blues.[8] It has remained in King's repertoire and he has recorded several versions of the song, including a 2000 release with Eric Clapton for their Riding with the King album.


  1. ^ Sometimes referred to as "Three O'Clock in the Morning" after the opening lyrics, although that is the title of a different song.
  2. ^ a b c Escott, Colin (2002). B.B. King: The Vintage Years (Box set booklet). B.B. King. Ace Records, Ltd. p. 40. Ace ABOXCD 8. 
  3. ^ In 1938 Monkey Joe recorded a different "Three O'Clock Blues" (Vocalion 04294).
  4. ^ Visser, Joop (2004). Lowell Fulson: Juke Box Shuffle (CD notes). Lowell Fulson. Proper Records. pp. 3–4. Intro CD 2042. 
  5. ^ a b c Gioia, Ted (2008). Delta Blues. W. W. Norton. p. 330. ISBN 978-0-393-33750-1. 
  6. ^ a b c Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Record Research, Inc. pp. 238, 161. ISBN 0-89820-068-7. 
  7. ^ B.B. King interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  8. ^ a b Myers, Marc (7 Feb 2011). "With B.B. King: Been on the Road Since 'Three O'Clock'". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  9. ^ Shirley, David (1995). Every Day I Sing The Blues: The Story of B.B. King. New York: Grolier Publishing. p. 53. ISBN 0-531-11229-2. 
  10. ^ The Blues. Hal Leonard Corporation. 1995. pp. 218–19. ISBN 0-7935-5259-1. 
  11. ^ a b Palmer, Robert (1982). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. p. 230. ISBN 0-14-006223-8. 
  12. ^ Kostelanetz, Richard (1997). The B.B. King Companion. New York: Schirmer Books. p. 178. ISBN 0-02-864619-3. 
  13. ^ Sawyer, Charles. "The Life of Riley". Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  14. ^ Kostelanetz 1997, p. 146.
  15. ^ Adelt, Ulrich (2011). "Black, White, and Blue: Racial Politics in B.B. King's Music from the 1960's". Journal of Popular Culture 44 (2). 
Preceded by
"Flamingo" by Earl Bostic and His Orchestra
Billboard Best Selling Retail Rhythm & Blues Records number-one single (B.B. King version)
February 2, 1952 - March 8, 1952
(five weeks)
Succeeded by
"Night Train" by Jimmy Forest, tenor and all star combo