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Music Review: Albert King – The Definitive Albert King On Stax

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For British rock guitarists of the sixties, the acoustic blues of Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon and Elmore James was the Holy Grail. It is somewhat embarrassing that their great songs needed to be electrified and swaddled in psychedelic imagery for US listeners to appreciate them, but that’s the way it happened.

At the time, however, authentic bluesmen such as Albert King (1923-1992) were tearing up their amplifiers as heavily as their English counterparts were. There were three (unrelated) Kings competing with each other, and all added immeasurably to the genre. The trio were B.B. King, Freddie King, and the maestro of the Flying V – Albert King.

Albert had already impacted the R&B charts in 1961 with his “Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong.” But it was his signing with Stax Records in 1966 that really kicked off his career. The new double-CD set The Definitive Albert King On Stax makes this abundantly clear.

With a nod toward friendly rival B.B.’s Gibson “Lucille,” Albert named his Flying V “Lucy.” Like a number of left-handed players, Albert simply turned Lucy upside down to play. It was in this manner that he became known for his clean, crisp tone – a quality that would deeply inspire young Stevie Ray Vaughan (among others).

King’s period with Stax ran from 1966–1975, when the label was forced to close. For Albert, these years proved to be the high point of his career. Among the greats collected here are “The Sky Is Crying,” “Killing Floor,” and “Dust My Broom.” It was at Stax where King’s signature tune “Born Under A Bad Sign” was recorded. His taste in rock and roll was evident with versions of both “Hound Dog” and “Honky Tonk Women.”

Considering the fact that Booker T. And The M.G.’s were basically the Stax house band, Albert was blessed with some tremendous company for many of these recordings. A large number of sessions featured all-stars such as Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass), Steve Cropper (guitar), Alan Jackson Jr. (drums), and Booker T. himself on the ivories. The legendary Memphis Horns make some appearances, as does the Memphis Symphony Orchestra on a couple of the later tracks.

What holds all of this together though is the incredibly clean playing of Albert. He was one of the finest bluesmen of our time, and every one of these tracks deserves a listen. This collection is the perfect introduction to the electric blues master.

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About Greg Barbrick