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Albert King

Albert King is truly a "King of the Blues," although he doesn't hold that title (B.B. does). Along with B.B. and Freddie King, Albert King is one of the major influences on blues and rock guitar players. Without him, modern guitar music would not sound as it does -- his style has influenced both black and white blues players from Otis Rush and Robert Cray to Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. It's important to note that while almost all modern blues guitarists seldom play for long without falling into a B.B. King guitar cliché, Albert King never does -- he's had his own style and unique tone from the beginning.

Albert King plays guitar left-handed, without re-stringing the guitar from the right-handed setup; this "upside-down" playing accounts for his difference in tone, since he pulls down on the same strings that most players push up on when bending the blues notes. 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 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. King moved to Osceola 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 theIn the Groove Boys; he stayed 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 were 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. ~ Daniel Erlewine & Stephen Thomas Erlewine
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Stax Profiles

1. Born Under A Bad Sign (With Stevie Ray Vaughan)

2. Lovingest Woman In Town

3. She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride

4. The Sky Is Crying

5. Don't Throw Your Love On Me So Strong (live)

6. (I Love) Lucy

7. Can't You See What Your Doing To Me

8. Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven

9. Angel Of Mercy

10. Oh, Pretty Woman

x

Track List: Born Under A Bad Sign And Other Hits

1. Born Under A Bad Sign

2. Crosscut Saw

3. Down Don't Bother Me

4. Funk-Shun

5. Kansas City

7. I Almost Lost My Mind

8. Personal Manager

9. Overall Junction

10. Laundromat Blues

x

Track List: The Very Best Of Albert King

1. Let's Have A Natural Ball

2. Don't Throw Your Love On Me So Strong

5. Overall Junction

6. Oh, Pretty Woman (Can't Make You Love Me)

7. Crosscut Saw

8. Born Under A Bad Sign

9. Personal Manager

10. Cold Feet

13. Breaking Up Somebody's Home

14. Answer To The Laundromat Blues

15. That's What The Blues Is All About

16. Cadillac Assembly Line

x

Track List: Roadhouse Blues

1. I'll Play The Blues For You

2. I Can't Hear Nothin But The Blues

3. Answer To The Laundromat Blues

4. That's What The Blues Is All About

5. Roadhouse Blues

6. Killing Floor

7. Bay Area Blues

8. Drivin'wheel

9. Dust My Broom

10. Hound Dog

11. Match Box Blues

x

Track List: Thursday Night In San Francisco

1. San-Ho-Zay

3. Call It Stormy Monday (live)

4. Everyday I Have The Blues

8. I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town

9. Ooh-Ee-Baby

x

Track List: I'll Play The Blues For You

1. I'll Play The Blues For You

3. Breaking Up Somebody's Home

4. High Cost Of Loving

6. Answer To The Laundromat Blues

8. Angel Of Mercy

x

Track List: King Of The Blues Guitar

1. Laundromat Blues

2. Overall Junction

3. Oh, Pretty Woman

4. Funk Shun

5. Crosscut Saw

6. Down Don't Bother Me

7. Born Under A Bad Sign

8. Personal Manager

9. Kansas City

10. The Very Thought Of You

11. The Hunter

12. I Almost Lost My Mind

13. As The Years Go Passing By

14. Cold Feet

15. You Sure Drive A Hard Bargain

16. I Love Lucy

17. You're Gonna Need Me

x

Track List: Live Wire / Blues Power

1. Watermelon Man (Live)

2. Blues Power (Live)

3. Night Stomp

4. Blues At Sunrise (Live)

5. Please Love Me (Live)

6. Look Out

x

Track List: Born Under A Bad Sign

1. Born Under A Bad Sign

2. Crosscut Saw

3. Kansas City

4. Oh, Pretty Woman

5. Down Don't Bother Me

6. The Hunter

7. I Almost Lost My Mind

8. Personal Manager

9. Laundromat Blues

10. As The Years Go Passing By

11. The Very Thought Of You

Comments

Report as inappropriate
I guess it was the early 80's... I went to a show in SF to see Paul Butterfield Blues Band, mainly cause Mick Taylor joined him on that tour. That was some fantastic white-boy blues for a young, blues lovin white-boy. But then Albert took the stage and gave us ALL some schoolin. He'd light up his pipe, reflect for a moment and preface with a short story, then proceed to tear the place apart... one heart felt note at a time!
Changed my life.
Play on brother Albert... play on
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leftilass
Feeeelllllll good music; the best.! Read an earlier comment bout telling folks to pass on blues music; at 6 years old nephew got in my car (hard to concentrate whilst listening lol) Anyway, vn music ty.
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Very under-apprec i a t e d ! Love the vocals as well as the twangy guitar, unique style.
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Heavy, heavy, heavy....mmm m m m !
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To Mr. Albert King: Thank you for the first true love of the blues known to man!!!!!!!!
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yoyomgmtlp
The Three Kings BB, Albert, Freddie, Did not get the money that was due them,like today,s artist, BUT, like all Black Blues musicians in the past before them. They left a mark on American music so big, that you can not create a song with out playing there licks. That's worth more than money. Just like the ones who came before them, Leadbelly, Jellyroll and many others. For all people who read this, Please teach your kids about the Blues, It is the gateway through American Music.
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Agreed. The best King
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The best King...
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Cool deal ����
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You're a lucky man I hate you hahaha
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I can always smell his notes out of the speaker had the pleasure of witnessing him preform in San Diego in 91
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Play the blus Albert
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the sweetest thing being into the blues
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wkbram
headphones on.....world off
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Such GREAT blues!!
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THANKS PANDORA love ya thank God for the real blues!!!!
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He's is right on the money with his tunes!! Awesome
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Mmmmmm...GOO D !
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wooow, this guy always makes the blues sound so alive and his own!
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Real music
From the heart makes people understandin g tunes. Allgood man algood
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Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn
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I love the blues
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For Herbert Brown 1950-1993
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Damn fantastic! I could listen to his music forever! ♡♡♡♡♡
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I truly believe Albert King is the real king
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True GOD given talent!!!tru e l y awesome music!!!!!
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Go Albert go
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forklite
Brynnert27, totally agree it's almost like a great drug ,imho
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I CAN HEAR MR. ALBERT KING OVER AND OVER AGAIN 'Cause IT'S NEVER ENOUGH!!!!!! ! !
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What can you say other than 'AWESOME'!!! ! !
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You can hear the soul in their blues
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jcclark190
One of the best blue's men if not the greatest of all time
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Don't play the blues for me ,already blue enough, "" (smile) ..
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Love this guy. Brilliant...
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Albert's distinctive guitar sound is captivating and it one of my all time favorite Blues axe men!
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Love this man and his music...SRV" s mentor...tot a l l y awesome artist !
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What a funky tune...love the bass Line and smooth vocals
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The Blues icon.
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Awesome performer and one of a kind; RIP
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Awesome performer and one of a kind; YIP my man
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Great sound with his Lucy. Learned to love the blues through him in early 70's! Just different from BB. Tremendous influence! I'll Play The Blues For You and Blues Power! Nuff said...
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Oh Yes, Mr King........ . g e t down with your bad self......Pl a y on.........
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Give us some down home Chicago blues oh yeah��
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atroxcaetus
And it's is what it sounds like when a real can of blues "whoop-a**"i s opened up on us! WOO - HOOOOO!!!
love you,Albert king !!!
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Let's cry the blues y'all! I love Mr. Albert King, he's my #2 favorite blues man.... My #1 knows who he is.... Woooo!
Report as inappropriate
What more can be said about B.B. that has not already been said. Had the honor and privilege of seeing him live around nine years ago in Wheeling's Capitol Music Hall. Rest in peace, B.B. You have brought so much joy to so many millions of fans over the years. You will forever be the undisputed "King of the Blues".
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I grow up on all tha oldies it's tha real s**t fds I'm a old head hahahahahaha h a h a h a
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that 459 hay
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Yes Sir
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Albert has my vote as Prince of the Blues. Muddy is King.
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