Heavy Blues Riffs

You don’t necessarily need a heavy plant license to drive a guitar but it might help. Albert King proves exactly the case – that driving heavy machinery gives you the muscle to play some real heavyweight, incandescent blues riffs. Albert Nelson King was born in Indianola, Mississippi on a cotton plantation and moved to Arkansas where he grew up picking cotton. His first instruments were a diddley bow, a homemade cigar box guitar and then a Guild acoustic. Although left handed King eventually settled upon his trademark guitar – a right handed 1958 Gibson Flying V which he played upside down using a dropped minor tuning.

Born Under A Bad Sign

Albert was influenced by Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, and Howlin’ Wolf and while he played with the Yancey’s Band the Grove Boys kept his day job working as a bulldozer driver. His first recording had regional success on Parrot records in Memphis in 1953 and a major hit on the Billboard R&B chart with the 1961 St. Louis’ Bobbin records release “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong” from his first album “The Big Blues”. After a brief period with Coun-Tee records King returned to Memphis in ’66 and signed with Stax Records where he cut his second album “Born Under a Bad Sign”.

Blues Rock Milestone

With the auspicious Booker T. and The M.G.’s and The Memphis Horns behind him “Born Under a Bad Sign” became one of the most influential blues records of the 1960’s with a slick production style that made the record a crossover hit, a landmark recording and the guitar playing so influential in its scope both blues and rock musicians cite its impact. You can hear the impact in the playing of Mike Bloomfield, Peter Green, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Otis Rush, Albert Collins, Mick Taylor, Derek Trucks and countless others. The songs “Born Under a Bad Sign”, “Crosscut Saw”, “Oh, Pretty Woman” and “The Hunter” became blues standards covered by many blues-rock bands like Cream and Free (with guitarist Paul Kossoff), Robben Ford, late era Gary Moore and The Paul Butterfield Blues band.

Guitar Tone & Style

Albert’s guitar style is bright without lacking in depth – the sheer weight of his sound seeming to emanate from a vice like grip and unforgettable attack highlighted through his use of a simple set up: his guitar, one lead and an acoustic amplifier. His distinctive style emphasises long bends, muscular vibrato and horn like riffs – you can really hear his enormous hands playing the guitar. It’s an intense, brass tacks approach to guitar playing built upon effort and sweat – you only get out what you put in but only put in what really counts. It’s a no frills, “play like you mean it” approach that has its heart in the earthy roots of the pre-war blues and he sings with a distinctively soulful and clear, velvet voice.

It is most likely that Albert King used an E minor open tuning (C-B-E-G-B-E) tuned down three steps.

Eric Clapton Tribute

Albert King’s influence is indelibly etched into the late 1960’s popular music psyche through Eric Clapton’s guitar playing with psychedelic power trio Cream. On “Disraeli Gears” the influence of King is concrete – Eric plays Albert’s original “Born under a Bad Sign” solo note for note on “Strange Brew” in tribute. Here are Cream proving they have a great sense of humour ‘playing’  “Strange Brew”.