This week’s featured artist is Albert King! Born as Albert Nelson (April 25, 1923 – December 21, 1992), he was an American blues guitarist and singer whose playing influenced many other blues guitarists. He is perhaps best known for the popular and influential album Born Under a Bad Sign and its title track. He is one of the three performers (together with B.B. King and Freddie King) known as the “Kings of the Blues.” King was known for his “deep, dramatic sound that was widely imitated by both blues and rock guitarists.” He was once nicknamed “The Velvet Bulldozer” because of his smooth singing and large size–he stood much taller than average, with sources reporting 6 ft 4 or 6 ft 7, and weighed 250 pounds –and also because he drove a bulldozer in one of his day jobs early in his career!
The instrument he is usually associated with is a 1958 Gibson Flying V, which was a very uncommon guitar before being popularized with heavy metal decades later in the 1980s. He was certainly ahead of his time!
King was left-handed, but usually played right-handed guitars flipped – and he didn’t even adjust the strings! The thick strings were kept towards the ground and the thin strings were where the lower strings would normally be! He also didn’t use his sixth string in his playing. King used unusual dropped open tunings, with reports varying between (C#-G#-B-E-G#-C#), low to high (C-B-E-F#-B-E), open E-minor (C-B-E-G-B-E), or open F Major (C-F-C-F-A-D). The luthier Dan Erlewine said King used light-gauge strings (0.009″, 0.012″, 0.024″ wound, 0.028″, 0.038″, 0.050″). The lighter-gauge strings, and lower string tension of the dropped tuning, were factors in King’s string-bending technique.
King influenced many other prominent guitarists, including Jimi Hendrix, Mick Taylor, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Mike Bloomfield and Joe Walsh. He also influenced his contemporaries Albert Collins and Otis Rush. He was often cited by Stevie Ray Vaughan as having been his greatest influence. Eric Clapton has said that his work on the 1967 Cream hit “Strange Brew” and throughout the album Disraeli Gears was inspired by King.
King was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. In 2011, he was ranked number 13 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Check below for a live video of Albert King performing Under a Bad Sign along with Stevie Ray Vaughn, and for a tab of some of its riffs!
What are your favourite works by Albert King? What do you think of his play style and trend-setting, unique tunings? Us at Go Guitar Lessons are grateful for his incredible contributions to music. We are currently offering Video Conference Lessons if you’d like to learn about the history of music from a professional!
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