Albert King – I’ll Play The Blues

Albert King
Albert King

Guitarist Albert King was one of the most significant musical influences on the blues-rock artists of the 1960s. In an era blessed with a wealth of fine blues guitarists, King’s tone and individual style rose above the competition. His single-string solo style was unmatched, and he would bend the instrument’s strings, or use odd tunings to achieve a truly tortured sound. King was one of the first bluesmen to cross over into ’60s soul music, and his style would have an impact on young guitarslingers like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. King was born Albert Nelson in rural Indianola, Mississippi – B.B. King’s hometown – but moved with his family to Forrest City, Arkansas when he was eight years old. He taught himself guitar, building his first instrument from a cigar box. King initially sang with the family gospel group, but after hearing Texas bluesmen like T-Bone Walker and Blind Lemon Jefferson, his musical interest turned towards the blues.
King quickly developed his unique sound, the left-handed musician playing his right-handed guitar upside down and backwards. He tried playing with a pick and, finding it unwieldy, picked with his fingers and thumb instead. King bought his first electric guitar for $125 from a pawnshop in Little Rock and, after practicing for a couple of years, he began sitting in with the Osceola, Arkansas outfit the Yancy Band. Later, he would play with the local In The Groove Boys while driving a bulldozer during the day.
King moved to Gary, Indiana (near Chicago) in 1953. Joining a band that included guitarists Jimmy Reed and John Brim, King would play drums with the outfit. It was around this time that he changed his name to “King,” prompted by the success of B.B. King’s hit “Three O’Clock Blues.” The guitarist found a champion in Chess Records producer and songwriter Willie Dixon, who arranged for King to record several sides for Parrot Records.
Parrot released a just one single on King, “Bad Luck Blues” b/w “Be On Your Merry Way,” and although it achieved respectful sales numbers, King made little or no money for his efforts. King returned to Osceola, and hooked up again with the In The Groove Boys. After a couple of years had passed, King relocated to East St. Louis, and he would hone his six-string skills to a fine edge playing the city’s blues and soul clubs. King recorded for the local Bobbin label in 1959, and scored his first R&B chart hit in 1961 with “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong,” which Bobbin licensed to King Records.
Bobbin would also license sides for release by Chess Records, and King would later find some regional success with the St. Louis label Coun-Tree Records. It was when King signed with the Memphis soul label Stax Records in 1966 that he would find major league success, though. Recording with the Stax house band, including keyboardist Booker T. Jones, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, drummer Al Jackson, Jr., and guitarist Steve Cropper, King would score hits with such soul-blues romps as

Albert King

Albert King

“Born Under A Bad Sign,” “Laundromat Blues,” and “Crosscut Saw.”
With guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton borrowing elements of his unique style, King’s late-1960s work for Stax was tailor-made for white blues-rock fans. Promoter Bill Graham flew to East St. Louis to offer King the then-grand sum of $1,600 to perform at the legendary Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. King was the first bluesman to play the Fillmore, topping a bill that included Hendrix and Janis Joplin. King would become a regular draw at the venue, and recorded his Live Wire/Blues Power album there in 1968.

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