The Concord Music Group has just added three more titles to their Definitive Series. The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy and The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige join the subject of this review, The Definitive Albert King on Stax, as the latest additions to their impressive and expanding catalogue of releases.
Albert King, 1923-1992, was one of the three kings of the blues, along with Freddie and B.B. He was born in Indianola, Mississippi, an area that produced many of the great Bluesman in music history. He was a left handed guitarist who took his early guitars and just turned them upside down. Even later in life, when he could afford proper left handed instruments, he still put the strings in reverse order.
He recorded his first single sides during 1953 and produced his first full length album for the King label during 1962. The prime of his career took place during his time with the legendary Stax label. His series of albums and singles, recorded 1966-1975, were some of the most influential electric blues music in history. He was able to bend the strings in a way that produced a unique sound. When you added in his smooth vocal style, you had one of the great musicians of the 20th century.
The Definitive Albert King on Stax gathers 34 of his songs onto a two disc set. The sound has been remastered and comes across clear and pristine. The accompanying booklet provides a brief biography and a nice history of the music. Except for the inclusion of “Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong,” which was released on the King label during 1961, the material is from his Stax period.
His backing band on many of his classic performances was the legendary Booker T. & The MG’s, comprised of pianist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Duck Dunn, and drummer Al Jackson. The Memphis Horns also provide support on a number of songs.
He was a blues artist and he shines on such songs as “Crosscut Saw,” “Born Under A Bad Sign,” “Killing Floor,” “Laundromat Blues,” and “Driving Wheel,” which are all lessons in how to play the electric blues.
He travels in a unique direction on a number of tracks. He turns “Hound Dog” into a blues treat. His take on the Rolling Stones, “Honky Tonk Woman,” presents this rock song in a different light. He shares guitar duties with one of the great forgotten guitarists, Jesse Ed Davis. His combining with guitarists Steve Cropper and Pop Staples on John Lee Hooker’s “Tupelo (Pt. 1)” is a treat enhanced by Staples’ vocals. “Tell Me What True Love is,” is a nice inclusion as it was from a session with John Mayall. An added treat is trumpeter Blue Mitchell.
Albert King’s time with the Stax label was one of the better relationships in blues history as it produced an impressive catalogue of studio and live albums. His singles were universally excellent, but found little mainstream success, and remain very collectable today.
Whether you are familiar with his music or not, The Definitive Albert King on Stax is essential electric blues music and well worth a listen.