During the late 60’s and early 70’s (my high school and college years), my hands-down favorite radio station was WBCN-FM out of Boston. They played everything and anything, especially the artists and recordings that you were never going to hear on AM radio. When I tuned in, I never knew what I was going to discover.
One night (I really wish I could remember where I was) I turned on the radio and the most searing, soulful, wailing electric guitar I’d ever heard exploded out of the speaker. As I listened, the soft accompaniment of the back-up band came through revealing a slow Blues shuffle, walking bass line and all, and then a vocalist, exhorting the audience with demands of: “Can you dig it?” and proclaiming: “You know I’ve got the blues!” And then more of that incredible guitar.
When the long track was over, the dj announced that I’d been listening to “Blues Power” from the album “Live Wire/Blues Power” by singer/guitarist Mr. Albert King.
Albert King was born today, April 25, 1923, in Indianola, Mississippi. He got his first guitar at the age of 19, in 1942. He formed his first professional group in 1952 and made his recording debut as the headliner on Nov. 30, 1953. “Live Wire/Blues Power” was recorded at the Filmore West in San Francisco on June 26 & 27, 1968.
Albert played left handed on a normally-strung Gibson Flying V guitar and used a unique altered tuning. Thanks to this tuning, his “upside-down” guitar and his large, strong hands, he could execute the most devastating, widest ranging string bends of any guitarist ever. His sound – a full bodied yet cutting, obviously high volume tone and those awesome bends – is instantly recognizable.
I had the good fortune and distinct pleasure to see him perform live once. He played in Boston at the Boston Globe Jazz Festival on March 23, 1985. He shared the bill with Stevie Ray Vaughn, no small figure in the world of Blues guitar himself, and though they sadly did not play together, it was a fantastic and memorable show.
Albert King passed away on Dec. 21, 1992 in Memphis, TN.