Now considered something of a landmark, this recording wasn’t even released commercially until some 15 years after the 1983 session that produced it. Brought together for an innovative program run by an independent television station in Hamilton, Ontario, notoriously cantankerous Albert King and emerging superstar Stevie Ray Vaughan went head to head in an informal jam setting, between them generating some of the fieriest fretwork ever caught on tape.
King is clearly the patriarch here, with between-song patter finding him almost condescending to begin with, though his respect for the younger guitarist’s prowess clearly increases over the course of the disc’s seven tracks. By the end, indeed, King seems ready to pass the torch. For his part, Stevie is evidently awed but determined to prove himself every inch the master’s equal. And he succeeds admirably.
Backed ably by King’s working band of the time (bassist Gus Thornton, with brothers Michael and Tony Llorens on drums and keys respectively), the two waste no time tearing through a set of tough, no-nonsense electric blues, with a blistering cover of “They Call It Stormy Monday” kicking things off.
Most of the material comes from King’s playbook, and he takes all the vocals, with the exception of Vaughan’s “Pride And Joy.” King knows he’s the king, and his vocals reflect a relaxed confidence, straining only occasionally to hit higher notes – for the most part he simply assumes command, drawling his lines with ease and assurance. Included are “Ask Me No Questions,” a full fifteen minutes of “Blues At Sunrise,” “Overall Junction,” “Match Box Blues “ (a loping King original, not the familiar “Matchbox” from Ike Turner), and “Don’t Lie To Me,” a staple of his repertoire.
Conversational interludes are both programmed (skippable if one’s heard them enough) and aptly named – “Old Times,” Pep Talk,” Turn It Over,” and “Who Is Stevie,” with King offering nuggets of wisdom and advice to the rising superstar. They provide a fascinating glimpse into the personalities behind the music, and in a way mirror Vaughan’s own rise to fame – from tolerance for a skinny but eager young kid to sheer admiration for a master musician.
The original release of these sessions seemed a relatively low-budget affair, and with the exception of a cardboard sleeve, packaging hasn’t been improved much this time around. Liner notes are expanded, though, and Stax has done a fine job of mastering – it’s still not pristine by contemporary standards, but there’s a definite improvement over the somewhat muddy sound of the initial release.
With Stevie’s career coming to a tragic end with his 1990 death in a helicopter crash, and Albert now long gone as well (a heart attack in ’92), there’s an inescapably elegiac air to this recording, despite the incendiary playing on display; one can’t help but mourn the loss of two disparate but equal giants. This recording captures both in their magnificent prime … there’s genuine greatness here!