Written by Fantasma el Rey
Albert Collins hits the stage not once but twice on this new DVD from the Live At Montreux series. Collins dubbed “The Iceman” shows us why he’s known worldwide as such with every strum, pick, and lick that smokes off his guitar and freezes you in your tracks. Collins and his bands, let loose on eleven cuts presented here, seven songs from the 1992 performance at Montreux while the remaining four are from his 1979 appearance.
Born in Texas in 1932, Albert Collins started out by mimicking his cousin Lightin’ Hopkins, but quickly crafted a style all his own, evident by his first single release an instrumental titled “The Freeze,” which began a theme of song titles and killer instrumentals that included what would become his signature jam “Frosty.” “The Master of the Telecaster” would ride this theme until his final days with songs like “Cold Cold Feeling” and “Iceman.” Sadly Collins’ last days were not long after his 1992 appearance at Montreux. Just a year later, he would lose his long fight with cancer and join other guitar greats in the afterlife.
Collins and the Ice Breakers start off fast with his then most recent release “Iceman” and keep moving with “Honey Hush” showcasing his assertive yet playful blues vocals. Everything Collins is known for is on display in these two opening tunes. Featuring a driving beat, funky bass lines, soaring horns, and his guitar playing, he uses a capo, tunes his guitar to a minor key, and plays with his fingers only; that’s right no pick!
The funk-dripping “Put The Shoe On The Other Foot” has one of the oldest original Ice Breakers, bassist Johnny B. Gayden, chilling the room with groovy solo jam. It also finds Collins jumping into the crowd for his traditional walk in the audience, a move begun years before the cordless era when Collins would use a 150-foot cable to meet and greet his fans. Legend has it that he actually ordered a pizza one time and had the delivery boy follow him back on stage.
Collins shifts gears with ease, cruisin’ slow and low with “Lights Are On (But Nobody’s Home) and “Too Many Dirty Dishes,” providing a cooling-off period before the band starts to smoke again. “Lights Are On” shows Collins’ playful side, scatting along as he picks through the song. Not too be left out “Frosty” closes the show as always and has the band blasting full speed ahead, making this tune stick with you, infecting your brain for weeks. The spotlight is turned on the band as each member gets a chance to strut his stuff.
From 1992 we travel back to 1979 and a show that in Fantasma’s opinion is vastly superior to ’92. Hell, I was amazed that the second set was so stunning. Driven by a cast of seasoned blues vets, this version of the Ice Breakers is street mean and the sound is more solid and menacing. The rhythm section sounds like funky thunder from the gods, Casey Jones hits hard and heavy while keeping time like a jazz master. Larry and Aron Burton, second guitar and bass, sound like funk-filled hammers working together to bang out bass lines and chords that sum up jumpin’ blues perfectly.
This charging blues train doesn’t have a whistle, just one horn and that’s more than enough when that horn is sax legend A.C. Reed. His roaring, honking sax blows hot and cool, proving that he’s a true master sax man and why this kat’s solo album “I’m In The Wrong Business” was a long-time favorite of a teenaged Fantasma. Reed also provides back-up vocals that compliment Collins’ aggressive vocals very well.
Collins is in top form and more animated, moving and grooving while he sings and plays. Even his crowd walk during “Listen Here” is highlighted by his guitar showmanship, sitting in the crowd while picking and pounding out his one-handed hammer on and playing behind his head. All this before skipping back on stage to hit the next powerful jam and keeping the crowd in frenzy.
“This ain’t nothin’ but the blues,” Collins declares before the band creeps into “Snatchin’ It Back.” He is constantly laughing and playing with the band as he “loves” his guitar, and they jump and pound they’re way through the rest of the set which includes the slow “Cold Cold Feeling” and the closing show-stopper “Frosty.” Is it really any surprise that this working of “Frosty” is completely bad-assed and will have you bouncing on your feet. Adding more fuel to the ice fire is a guitar cameo by another Texas blues legend Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.
Albert Collins – Live At Montreux 1992 is a must for blues fans and the hardcore fans will be pleased to see the bonus set from 1979. The two shows together represent a master guitar slinger, who would inspire many young guns, frozen in time at his best. A CD of just the 1992 set has been released.