Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Albert King (1923 – 1992)

Albert Nelson was born in 1923 on a cotton plantation in Indianola, Mississippi (although some sources cite Aberdeen, Mississippi). One of 13 children, his is father left the family when Albert was five. Three years later they moved to Forrest City, Arkansas and Albert grew up picking cotton on nearby plantations. He sang in a family gospel group at the local church and learned to play a diddley bow. His first guitar was made out of a cigar box, a piece of a bush, and a strand of broom wire. Eventually he bought an accoustic guitar and as a left hander, used the right-hand string set up and tuning but played the instrument upside down. Among his early blues influences were Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Lonnie Johnson. Albert worked in construction, and other jobs until he was finally wass able to support himself as a musician.

In 1950, Albert joined the In the Groove Boys, and played at the T-99 nightclub in Osceola, Arkansas. The band started to get wider recognition when they appeared on local radio. He moved to Gary, Indiana in 1953, and joined Jimmy Reed’s band with fellow guitarist, John Brim. During this time, Albert played drums on several early recordings as well as adopting the name, Albert King in deference to BB King. Willie Dixon then helped him set up an audition at Parrot Records in Chicago. "Be on Your Merry Way" / "Bad Luck Blues," was released but failed to attract much attention.

He returned to Osceola and re-joined the In the Groove Boys where he stayed in Arkansas for the next two years.

In 1958, he started playing a Gibson Flying V, which he named Lucy. The electric guitar became his signature instrument. At well over 6 ft (1.8m), and weighing 250 pounds (110 kg), Albert King on stage with his signature guitar made him an imposing figure. Sometimes between gigs he made ends meet by working as a mechanic and drove a bulldozer. This earned the smooth singer the nickname "The Velvet Bulldozer." In 1959, Albert had his first hit with "I'm a Lonely Man," written by Little Milton. It was recorded with a pianist and a small horn section, which made the music sound closer to jump blues than Delta or Chicago blues.

"Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong" (Bobbin) was released in 1961, and became a hit, reaching number 14 on the R&B charts. The album, Big Blues, was released in 1962.

When left Bobbin in 1962, he recorded one session for King Records. These were more pop-oriented than his previous work and the singles issued from the session failed to sell. He next signed with jazz artist Leo Gooden's Coun-Tree label and cut four songs. These too failed to attract much attention but did foreshadow what would come next. Gooden resented King's success and pushed him off the label. Albert King signed with Stax Records in 1966.

Albert King signed with Stax Records in 1966 and recorded with the label's house band, Booker T. & the MG's. The soul inspired hits started coming beginning with "Laundromat Blues" (1966) and "Cross Cut Saw" (1967) both went Top 40. In 1967, Stax released the Born Under a Bad Sign album, which became the most popular and influential blues albums of the late '60s.

Albert soon had mass appeal to a diverse audience and frequently appeared at live gigs, such as the Fillmore East. He recorded the studio based album, “Years Gone By”, in 1969, the same year, and also performed live with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. He joined The Doors on stage at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, Canada and recorded an Elvis Presley tribute album, “Blues for Elvis - King Does the King's Things” (1970). After touring America and Europe, he returned to the studio in 1971 to record the Lovejoy album.

“I'll Play the Blues for You” (1972), featured the Bar-Kays, the Memphis Horns, and Isaac Hayes's backing group , the Movement. The album was rooted in the blues, but featured distinctively modern soul and funk overtones. The follow up album, “I Wanna Get Funky” (1974) was also recorded with the Bar-Kays, and mixed standard blues licks with funk. Many believe this was his last strong album, in the same year it was released Albert started playing a Flying V built by Dan Erlewine

Stax filed for bankrupsy in 1975 and Albert King left to join Utopia, (a small subsidiary of RCA Records). He released three albums on the label: Albert and Truckload of Lovin' (1976), King Albert (1977), and Live Blues (1977) taken from Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

In 1978, he signed with Tomato Records and by this time, King had abandoned contemporary soul crossovers for straight blues. He recorded the studio album, New Orleans Heat produced by Allen Toussaint. After the album failed to produce much interest Albert King took a four-year break from recording. Then 1983, he made a new live album with Fantasy Records, Crosscut Saw: Albert King In San Francisco.

In 1984, he recorded “I'm In A Phone Booth, Baby,” which would be his penultimate studio album. Albert announced his retirement due to helath problems but it would be short-lived. He continued to regularly play concerts and festivals throughout America and Europe for the rest of the decade. Red House was recorded in 1992, but the album was largely ignored because of bad production quality, and original copies of it are scarce.

He continued to perform until his sudden death in 1992, at his Memphis, Tennessee home.

In his professional like, Albert King influenced many young guitarists like Mick Taylor, Stevie Ray Vaughan , Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Mike Bloomfield, Robert Cray and Joe Walsh. He also influenced contemporaries Albert Collins and Otis Rush. Eric Clapton attributed the inspiration for "Strange Brew" and much of the album, Disraeli Gears to, Albert King.

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