King's massive tone and totally unique way of squeezing bends out of a guitar string, has had a major impact. Many young white guitarists - especially rock & rollers, have been influenced by King's playing and many players who emulate his style may never have even heard of Albert King, let alone heard his music. His style is immediately distinguishable from all other blues guitarists and he's one of the most important blues guitarists to ever pick up the electric guitar.
Born in Indianola, MS, but raised in Forrest City, AR, Albert King (born Albert Nelson) taught himself how to play guitar when he was a child, building his own instrument out of a cigar box. At first, he played with gospel groups - most notably the Harmony Kings, but after hearing Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson and several other blues musicians, he solely played the blues. In 1950, he met MC Reeder, who owned the T-99 nightclub in Osceola, AR and King moved there shortly afterward, joining the T-99's house band, the In the Groove Boys. The band played several local Arkansas gigs besides the T-99, including several shows for a local radio station.
After enjoying success in the Arkansas area, King moved to Gary, IN, in 1953, where he joined a band that also featured Jimmy Reed and John Brim. Both Reed and Brim were guitarists, which forced King to play drums in the group. At this time, he adopted the name Albert King, which he assumed after B.B. King's "Three O'Clock Blues" became a huge hit. Albert met Willie Dixon shortly after moving to Gary, and the bassist / songwriter helped the guitarist set up an audition at Parrot Records. King passed the audition and cut his first session late in 1953. Five songs were recorded during the session and only one single, "Be on Your Merry Way" / "Bad Luck Blues," was released; the other tracks appeared on various compilations over the next four decades. Although it sold respectably, the single didn't gather enough attention to earn him another session with Parrot. In early 1954, King returned to Osceola and re-joined the In the Groove Boys, staying in Arkansas for the next two years.
In 1956, Albert moved to St. Louis, where he initially sat in with local bands. By the fall of 1956, King was headlining several clubs in the area. King continued to play the St. Louis circuit, honing his style. During these years, he began playing his signature Gibson Flying V, which he named Lucy. By 1958, Albert was quite popular in St. Louis, which led to a contract with the fledgling Bobbin Records in the summer of 1959. On his first Bobbin recordings, King recorded with a pianist and a small horn section, which made the music sound closer to Jump Blues than Delta or Chicago Blues. Nevertheless, his guitar was taking a center stage and it was clear that he had developed a unique, forceful sound. King's records for Bobbin sold well in the St. Louis area, enough so that King Records leased the "Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong" single from the smaller label. When the single was released nationally late in 1961, it became a hit, reaching number 14 on the R&B charts. King Records continued to lease more material from Bobbin, including a full album, Big Blues, which was released in 1963, but nothing else approached the initial success of "Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong." Bobbin also leased material to Chess, which appeared in the late '60s.
Albert King left Bobbin in late 1962 and recorded one session for King Records in the spring of 1963, which was much more pop-oriented than his previous work; the singles issued from the session failed to sell. Within a year, he cut four songs for the local St. Louis independent label Coun-Tree, which was run by a jazz singer named Leo Gooden. Though these singles didn't appear in many cities - St. Louis, Chicago, and Kansas City were the only three to register sales, they foreshadowed his coming work with Stax Records. Furthermore, they were very popular within St. Louis, so much so that Gooden resented King's success and pushed him off the label.
Following his stint at Coun-Tree, Albert King signed with Stax Records in 1966. Albert's records for Stax would bring him stardom, both within blues and rock circles. All of his '60s Stax sides were recorded with the label's house band, Booker T. & the MG's, which gave his blues a sleek, soulful sound. That soul underpinning gave King crossover appeal, as evidenced by his R&B chart hits - "Laundromat Blues" (1966) and "Cross Cut Saw" (1967) both went Top 40, while "Born Under a Bad Sign" (1967) charted in the Top 50. Furthermore, King's style was appropriated by several rock & roll players, most notably Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, who copied Albert's "Personal Manager" guitar solo on the Cream song, "Strange Brew." Albert King's first album for Stax, 1967's Born Under a Bad Sign, was a collection of his singles for the label and became one of the most popular and influential blues albums of the late '60s. Beginning in 1968, Albert King was playing not only to blues audiences, but also to crowds of young rock & rollers. He frequently played at the Fillmore West in San Francisco and he even recorded an album, Live Wire/Blues Power, at the hall in the summer of 1968.
Early in 1969, King recorded Years Gone By, his first true studio album. Later that year, he recorded a tribute album to Elvis Presley (Blues for Elvis: Albert King Does the King's Things) and a jam session with Steve Cropper and Pops Staples (Jammed Together), in addition to performing a concert with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. For the next few years, Albert toured America and Europe, returning to the studio in 1971, to record the Lovejoy album. In 1972, he recorded I'll Play the Blues for You, which featured accompaniment from the Bar-Kays, the Memphis Horns, and the Movement. The album was rooted in the blues, but featured distinctively modern soul and funk overtones.
By the mid '70s, Stax was suffering major financial problems, so King left the label for Utopia, a small subsidiary of RCA Records. Albert released two albums on Utopia, which featured some concessions to the constraints of commercial soul productions. Although he had a few hits at Utopia, his time there was essentially a transitional period, where he discovered that it was better to follow a straight blues direction and abandon contemporary soul crossovers. King's subtle shift in style was evident on his first albums for Tomato Records, the label he signed with in 1978. Albert stayed at Tomato for several years, switching to Fantasy in 1983, releasing two albums for the label.
In the mid-'80s, Albert King announced his retirement, but it was short-lived - Albert continued to regularly play concerts and festivals throughout America and Europe for the rest of the decade. King continued to perform until his sudden death in 1992, when he suffered a fatal heart attack on December 21. The loss to the blues was a major one, although many guitarists have tried, no one can replace King's distinctive, trailblazing style. Albert King is a tough act to follow.
On December 6, 1983, legendary blues guitarist Albert King joined his disciple Stevie Ray Vaughan on a Canadian sound stage for the live music television series In Session. Magic happened. “It was evident from the first choruses,” writes liner notes author/musicologist Samuel Charters, “that they were playing for each other. And that was the best audience either of them could ever have. The music never lost its intensity, its quality of something very important being handed back and forth and there was time for Stevie and Albert to see where their ideas took them.”
In Session is the only known recording of Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan performing together. The 2009 remaster presented by Stax Records stands as a fitting tribute to the genius of two of the greatest musicians ever to have played the blues on electric guitar
Anyone who's witnessed a much anticipated jam session only to be disappointed--with each participant deferring to the other, the end result being that neither ever got out of first gear--will welcome this pairing of two giants of blues guitar. Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan obviously shared a mutual admiration, but it simply wasn't in either one's makeup to: a) be intimidated or b) take a backseat to anyone. Not without kicking up a little dust.
Albert King recorded a lot in the early '60s, including some classic sides, but they never quite hit the mark. They never gained a large audience, nor did they really capture the ferocity of his single-string leads. Then he signed with Stax in 1966 and recorded a number of sessions with the house band, Booker T. & the MG's, and everything just clicked. The MG's gave King supple Southern support, providing an excellent contrast to his tightly wound lead guitar, allowing to him to unleash a torrent of blistering guitar runs that were profoundly influential, not just in blues, but in rock & roll (witness Eric Clapton's unabashed copping of King throughout Cream's Disraeli Gears).
Initially, these sessions were just released as singles, but they were soon compiled as King's Stax debut, Born Under a Bad Sign. Certainly, the concentration of singles gives the album a consistency -- these were songs devised to get attention -- but, years later, it's astounding how strong this catalog of songs is: "Born Under a Bad Sign," "Crosscut Saw," "Oh Pretty Woman," "The Hunter," "Personal Manager," and "Laundromat Blues" form the very foundation of Albert King's musical identity and legacy. Few blues albums are this on a cut-by-cut level; the songs are exceptional and the performances are rich, from King's dynamic playing to the Southern funk of The MG's. It was immediately influential at the time and, over the years, it has only grown in stature as one of the very greatest electric blues albums of all time.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
It's not as if Albert King hadn't tasted success in his first decade and a half as a performer, but his late-'60s/early-'70s recordings for Stax did win him a substantially larger audience. During those years, the label began earning significant clout amongst rock fans through events like Otis Redding's appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival and a seemingly endless string of classic singles. When King signed to the label in 1966, he was immediately paired with the Stax session team Booker T. & the MG's. The results were impressive: "Crosscut Saw," "Laundromat Blues," and the singles collection Born Under a Bad Sign were all hits. Though 1972's I'll Play the Blues for You followed a slightly different formula, the combination of King, members of the legendary Bar-Kays, the Isaac Hayes Movement, and the sparkling Memphis Horns was hardly a risky endeavor. The result was a trim, funk-infused blues sound that provided ample space for King's oft-imitated guitar playing. King has always been more impressive as a soloist than a singer, and some of his vocal performances on I'll Play the Blues for You lack the intensity one might hope for. As usual, he more than compensates with a series of exquisite six-string workouts. The title track and "Breaking Up Somebody's Home" both stretch past seven minutes, while "I'll Be Doggone" and "Don't Burn Down the Bridge" (where King coaxes a crowd to "take it to the bridge," James Brown-style) break the five-minute barrier. Riding strutting lines by bassist James Alexander, King runs the gamut from tough, muscular playing to impassioned cries on his instrument, making I'll Play the Blues for You one of a handful of his great Stax sets.
Words: Nathan Bush
King cranked out this solid, if typical, album for the Stax label after the success of Born Under a Bad Sign. With Booker T. drummer Al Jackson producing, the set includes such staples as "You Threw Your Love on Me Too Strong," "Wrapped up in Love Again," and a powerful version of Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor." For fans of King's guitar work, the inclusion of the instrumental workouts on "You Don't Love Me" and "Drowning on Dry Land" are a special bonus.
Words: Cub Koda
This 1974 album for the Stax label is trademark Albert King; full of the type of soul and blues that makes him one of the greats. Supported by the Memphis Horns, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra there's traces of B. B. King and even a little of his Stax label mate, the redoutable, Isaac Hayes. If there's a standout track it is "Crosscut Saw" that aside from Mr King features the wonderful drummer, Al Jackson.The 70s was not a great decade for the Blues but you should not let this put you off in any way. As one Amazon reviewer put it. "That's What the Blues Is All About is a commercial (pop) blues that was a single (very successful, too). It features a 1970s style soul groove and some interesting lyrics. This is a must have CD for blues lovers.
Albert King kept threatening to retire during the last decade of his life, yet he continued spreading his blues-power sound to audiences of every persuasion around the globe right up until a massive heart attack killed him in Memphis on December 21, 1992. King did, however, stop making records, and this January 1984 recording, cut for Fantasy Records in Berkeley, California, was his very last album. Backed by his road rhythm section and legendary Phil Spector session saxophonist Steve Douglas, King kept one foot in the Mississippi Delta with a couple of Elmore James classics ("Dust My Broom," "The Sky Is Cryin'), and the other in contemporary material by such then-little-known writers as Doug MacLeod ("Your Bread Ain't Done") and Robert Cray ("Phone Booth").
Albert King's brilliant infusion of modern soul grooves into the blues, which he developed at Stax Records in consort with Booker T. & the MGs, remains the late bluesman's most enduring contribution to American music. Drawn from studio sessions made between 1966 and 1971, this collection brings together the B sides of four of the Mississippi-born singer-guitarist's early Stax singles, alternate takes of four classic tunes from his repertoire, and five selections which have never been issued previously. These performances from King's most innovative period are sure to make his many fans jump for joy.
Recorded live in San Francisco in 1968, here's Albert King pretty much at the top of his game, blasting out tons of great guitar and singing his heart to an appreciative crowd of young hippies. With a tight four-piece road band backing him, King fires up his Flying V and slams down hard on material like Freddie King's "San-Ho-Zay," "you Upset Me Baby," "Call It Stormy Monday," "Crosscut Saw," and "Drifting Blues." This is one of two volumes from the same Fillmore stand and both are absolutely essential to any Albert King collection; in many ways, they're the perfect introduction to this blues giant.
Words: Cub Koda
While this is not nearly as essential as some other Stax wax, it has a loose, raffish appeal and never falls into the murk of a boring super-session chopsfest. These guys were simply havin' fun with some standard soul/R&B covers (e.g. "What'd I Say," "Baby What You Want Me To Do") and some wide-open originals, kickin' back with some serious riffin'. Cropper proffers his usual intense, simplistic soloing, while King swoops and dives in a stringbending fury. The added plus is the silky smooth near-falsetto of Pop Staples, whose vocal on "Tupelo" is suitably eerie...
Words: John Dougan