Albert King was born Albert King Nelson on a cotton plantation in Indianola, Mississippi on the 25th of April, 1923. One of 13 children, Albert spent his childhood singing with a family gospel group at a church where his father played guitar.
Albert began his professional career with a band called The Groove Boys, he also held a brief stint as a drummer for Jimmy Reed’s band playing on several early Jimmy Reed recordings.
Drawing influences from blues musicians like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson, Albert established the electric guitar as his signature instrument. Throughout his career Albert played a Gibson Flying V called “Lucy”, he played right handed guitars upside down in left handed position.
Albert King stood at well over 6ft and weighed a menacing 110kg. His size, smooth singing style and dapper appearance earned him the nickname “The Velvet Bulldozer”, this was helped in part by his history as a bulldozer operator and also his famous temper.
Techniques And Musical Concepts They Popularised
Albert King was world renowned for his powerful and exotic blues bends.
Albert played his 1958 Gibson Flying V upside down and unlike Jimi Hendrix, kept the strings upside down as well. This caused his lower strings to be on the bottom of his fretboard and his higher strings to be at the top, allowing him to pull down on the strings to bend instead of pushing up. During solo’s Albert would often bend up to three full tones and anywhere in between.
Albert played with distinctive and powerful phrasing full to bursting with monstrous bends and powerful, wide vibrato. A majority of Alberts playing was done largely within the minor pentatonic, setting the standard for blues and rock guitar solos to come.
Albert used alternate minor tunings throughout his career, possibly paying homage to Blind Lemon Jefferson. His primary tuning was an Em tuning that went, from lowest to highest; C B E G B E. He was also known to use an open F tuning that went, from lowest to highest; C F C D A D. These open tunings caused his strings to become slacker, giving him the freedom to pull off his large signature bends.
Notable Rock Guitar Players They Influenced
Albert’s monstrous bends and solid minor pentatonic phrasing has since become the bench mark for rock and blues guitar playing. Guitar playing virtuoso Joe Satriani was quoted as saying that without Albert King, he doesn’t know what rock guitarist would be playing.
Eric Clapton said his guitar playing on Cream’s 1967 hit “Strange Brew” paid homage to Albert King, as well as a majority of his other guitar playing throughout the album Disraeli Gears. Eric sited Albert’s solo from “Oh Pretty Woman” as the inspiration for his solo in “Strange Brew”.
Albert’s songs were covered by many rock and blues guitar players. The song “Born Under a Bad Sign” was covered by both Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton while playing in Cream and also covered by Pat Traverse. Jimi Hendrix was quoted saying that Albert’s song “Crosscut Saw” was one of his all time favourites.
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