Albert King (April 25 1923 – December 21 1992) was an American blues guitarist and singer.
One of the "Three Kings of the Blues Guitar" (along with B.B. King
and Freddie King
), he stood at least 6' 4" (192 cm), weighed in at least 260 lbs (118 kg) and was known as "The Velvet Bulldozer". He was born Albert Nelson
on a cotton
plantation in Indianola, Mississippi
. During his childhood he would sing at a family gospel group
at a church. He began his professional work as a musician
with a group called In The Groove Boys, in Osceola
. He also briefly played drums
for Jimmy Reed
's band and on several early Reed recordings. Influenced by Blues
musicians Blind Lemon Jefferson
and Lonnie Johnson
, but also interestingly Hawaiian music, the electric guitar
became his signature instrument
, his preference being the Gibson Flying V
, which he named "Lucy".
King was a left-handed "upside-down/backwards" guitarist. He was left-handed, but usually played right-handed guitars flipped over upside-down so the low E string was on the bottom. In later years he played a custom-made guitar that was basically left-handed, but had the strings reversed (as he was used to playing). He also used very unorthodox tunings (i.e., tuning as low as C to allow him to make sweeping string bends). A "less is more" type blues player, he was known for his expressive "bending" of notes, a technique characteristic of blues guitarists.
His first minor hit came in 1958 with "I'm a Lonely Man" written by Bobbin Records A&R man and fellow guitar hero Little Milton, responsible for King's signing with the label. However, it was not until his 1961 release "Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong" that he had a major hit, reaching number fourteen on the R&B charts. In 1966 he signed with the famous Stax record label. Produced by powerhouse drummer Al Jackson, Jr., King with Booker T. & the MGs recorded dozens of hugely influential sides, such as "Crosscut Saw" and "As the Years Go Passing By", and in 1967 Stax released the legendary album, Born Under a Bad Sign. The title track of that album (written by Booker T. Jones and William Bell) became King's most well known song and has been covered by many artists (from Cream to Homer Simpson)
Another landmark album followed in Live Wire/Blues Power from one of many seminal dates King played at promoter Bill Graham's Fillmore venues.
In the 1970s, King was teamed with members of The Bar-Kays and The Movement (Isaac Hayes's backing group), including bassist James Alexander and drummer Willie Hall adding strong Funk elements to his music. Adding strings and multiple rhythm guitarists, producers Allen Jones and Henry Bush created a wall of sound that contrasted the sparse, punchy records King made with Booker T. & the MGs. Among these was another signature tune for King with "I'll Play the Blues For You" in 1972.
King influenced many later blues guitarists including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Mick Taylor, Warren Haynes, Mike Bloomfield, Gary Moore, Joe Walsh (The Eagles guitarist spoke at King's funeral), and especially Stevie Ray Vaughan, who also covered many of King's songs. He also had a profound impact on contemporaries Albert Collins and Otis Rush. Clapton has said that his work on the 1967 Cream hit "Strange Brew" and throughout the album Disraeli Gears was inspired by King.
King died on December 21 1992 from a heart attack in Memphis, Tennessee.
- 1962 The Big Blues, King Records
- 1967 Born Under a Bad Sign, Stax Records
- 1968 Live Wire/Blues Power, Stax Records
- 1969 Years Gone By, Stax Records
- 1969 King Of The Blues Guitar, Atlantic Records
- 1970 Blues For Elvis - King Does The King's Things, Stax Records
- 1971 Lovejoy, Stax Records
- 1972 I'll Play The Blues For You, Stax Records
- 1973 Blues At Sunset, Stax Records
- 1973 Blues At Sunrise, Stax Records
- 1974 I Wanna Get Funky, Stax Records
- 1974 Montreux Festival, Stax Records
- 1974 The Blues Don't Change, Stax Records
- 1974 Funky London, Stax Records
- 1976 Albert, Tomato Records
- 1976 Truckload Of Lovin' , Tomato Records
- 1977 I'll Play the Blues For You, Tomato Records (with John Lee Hooker)
- 1977 King Albert, Tomato Records
- 1979 New Orleans Heat, Tomato Records
- 1979 Chronicle, Stax Records (with Little Milton)
- 1983 Crosscut Saw: Albert King In San Francisco, Stax Records
- 1984 I'm In A Phone Booth, Baby, Stax Records
- 1986 The Best Of Albert King, Stax Records
- 1986 The Lost Session, Stax Records (with John Mayall)
- 1989 Let's Have A Natural Ball, Modern Blues Recordings
- 1989 Live, Rhino Records
- 1990 Door To Door, Chess Records
- 1990 Wednesday Night In San Francisco, Stax Records
- 1990 Thursday Night in San Francisco, Stax Records
- 1991 Red House, Essential
- 1992 Roadhouse Blues, RSP Records
- 1993 The Ultimate Collection, Rhino Records
- 1993 So Many Roads, Charly Blues Masters
- 1994 The Tomato Years, Tomato Records
- 1994 Funky London, Stax Records
- 1994 Chicago 1978, Charly Records
- 1995 Mean Mean Blues, King Records
- 1995 Live On Memory Lane, Monad Records
- 1996 Hard Bargain, Stax Records
- 1997 Born Under A Bad Sign & Other Hits, Flashback Records
- 1998 Rainin' In California, Wolf Records
- 1999 Blues Power, Stax Records
- 1999 Live In Canada, Charly Records
- 1999 The Very Best Of Albert King, Rhino Records
- 1999 A Truckload Of Lovin': The Best Of Albert King, Recall Records (UK)
- 1999 Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan In Session, Stax Records (with Stevie Ray Vaughan)
- 2001 Guitar Man, Fuel 2000 Records
- 2001 I Get Evil: Classic Blues Collected, Music Club Records
- 2001 More Big Blues Of Albert King, Ace Records
- 2001 Godfather Of The Blues: His Last European Tour, P-Vine Records
- 2002 Blue On Blues, Fuel 2000 Records
- 2003 Talkin' Blues, Thirsty Ear Records
- 2003 Blues From The Road, Fuel 2000 Records
- 2003 Live '69, Stax Records
- 2004 The Complete King & Bobbin Recordings, Collectables Records
- 2006 Stax Profiles, Stax Records
- 2006 Albert King's King's Jump, Charly Records
- 2007 Heat Of The Blues, Music Avenue
- Despite the same title, the 1972 and 1977 albums I'll Play The Blues For You differ in content, and the later one is a collection of previously released songs by King and John Lee Hooker.
- In Session (1999) was actually recorded in 1983 with Stevie Ray Vaughan. An outtake from the sessions not used for the 1999 CD, "Born Under A Bad Sign", appears on Stax Records' compilation Albert King: Stax Profiles.
- Talkin' Blues (2003) was recorded live in February 1978, and includes interviews with King.
- King played guitar, and sang on the Finnish rock and blues guitarist, Albert Järvisen's solo 1990 album, Braindamage or Still Alive?.
- King also was a guest on the 1990 album release by Gary Moore entitled Still Got the Blues.
DVD and videos
- 1995 Maintenance Shop Blues (VHS), Yazoo
- 2001 Godfather Of The Blues: His Last European Tour DVD, P-Vine Records
- 2004 Live In Sweden, Image Entertainment