There are many great recent artists in blues. Some are overwhelmingly influential, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan. Every kid who picks up a guitar these days wants to be him it seems. This is great for the future of the blues. When I see young guitar players like Derek Trucks and Aynsley Lister around it makes me happy. For every Stevie Ray or Jimi Hendrix though, there was someone that influenced them. For the second item in my starter kit, I thought I would look at one of their main influences. Albert King.
Albert was a big man. He he stood 6′ 4″ and weighed 250 lbs. He was known as “The Velvet Bulldozer” which was a result of his day job operating a bulldozer. He was born Albert Nelson on a cotton plantation in Indianola, Mississippi. Interestingly, BB King is from Indianola as well. In 1953, he changed his name to Albert King, after B.B. King’s “Three O’Clock Blues” became a huge hit.
Albert was a self-taught guitar player who learned how to play on his one string “diddley-bow”. He played upside-down and backwards (which was one of the reasons he was a big influence on Hendrix). Not many guitar players played in this manner so Albert developed a unique playing style but he had his influences too, such as Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf .
After short stints playing with people like Jimmy Reed, Brook Benton and Jackie Wilson, he started his recording career in 1953. He would have no impact until 1959 when he had a minor hit with “I’m a Lonely Man”. His first major hit arrived in 1961 with “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong” which went to #14 on the R&B chart. It was after he signed with Stax/Volt Records in 1966 that he became a star. King recorded dozens of singles with Booker T. & the MGs (Stax Records’ house band), such as “Crosscut Saw” and “As The Years Go Passing By”. In 1967 Stax released the album, Born Under a Bad Sign, which was more a collection of singles than a proper album. The title track became King’s best known song and has been covered by many, many artists, even Homer Simpson. So in no particular order the second item on my list is Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign”.
“Born Under A Bad Sign” (William Bell, Booker T. Jones) – 2:47
“Crosscut Saw” (R.G. Ford) – 2:35
“Kansas City” (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller) – 2:33
“Oh, Pretty Woman” (Williams) – 2:48
“Down Don’t Bother Me” (Albert King) – 2:10
“The Hunter” (Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Al Jackson, Jr, Booker T. Jones) – 2:45
“I Almost Lost My Mind” (Ivory Joe Hunter) – 3:30
“Personal Manager” (Albert King, David Porter) – 4:31
“Laundromat Blues” (Sandie Jones) – 3:21
“As The Years Go Passing By” (Deadric Malone) – 3:48
“The Very Thought Of You” (Ray Noble) – 3:46
This record fused soul, R&B and the blues into a very potent package and arrived at an opportune time as interest in blues was resurgent during the mid to late 60′s. It is arguably one of the most influential recordings in blues history and shows up all over other records. Led Zeppelin stole parts of “The Hunter” and mashed them into “How Many More Times” from their first album. “As The Years Go Passing By” inspired Duane Allman’s contributions to “Layla” where he played the slide guitar and Eric Clapton’s solo in “Strange Brew” was a tip of the hat to Albert’s solo in “Crosscut Saw”.
There really are no filler songs on this album. So this makes a great introduction to a man who was known for having a sound all his own. With his “backward” set up he pulls down on the same strings that most players push up on when bending the blues notes. This produced an uncommon tone and a totally unique way of bending strings which led to him having a major impact on music and guitar players that followed. King continued to perform until his sudden death in 1992, when he suffered a fatal heart attack on December 21. He was 69 years old.