Jazz & Blues Report
(October 1993 • issue 185)

Albert King

The Ultimate Collection


Few blues artists of recent years left as heavy a mark on the music as Albert King. Not only did he enjoy a fair amount of commercial success, particularly in the late sixties and the seventies, but he influenced numerous blues and rock guitarists including Eric Clapton, Larry Davis, Son Seals and others. The impact of his music is that a highly original and influential artist in his own right, Otis Rush, clearly incorporated elements of King’s guitar style in the seventies as well as added some of King’s songs. While Rhino’s title, The Ultimate Collection, is a bit too much hype for what is a survey of King’s recording career, Rhino has provided over two and a half hours of prime Albert King over two compact discs. Also included is a nicely done 52 page booklet by Bill Greensmith which concisely lays out the details about King’s life, career and recordings including his days with the In The Groove Boys in Osceola , Arkansas. His involvement in a traffic accident in which some whites were killed led him to end up in Gary, Indiana where he joined the band of John Brim and Jimmy Reed. It is around this time that he first recorded for Parrot/Blue Lake with Little Johnnie Jones, Willie Dixon and Odie Payne backing him. Three of these recordings open this album and while King’s vocal style is somewhat formed, his guitar playing has a definite country blues flavor. King’s Parrot-Blue Lake recordings didn’t make much of a commercial dent. He moved to the St. Louis area where he recorded for Bobbin in the late fifties which leased material to King and Chess, none of which are included here. Around 1964 he recorded for another St. Louis label, Coun-Tree, and his four recordings for that label, including Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong, are all collected here and show his style fully formed, particularly his guitar style - immediately recognizable through his use of long sustained notes. After Coun-Tree was the most fruitful time of King’s recording career, the time he was with Stax, and there are too many gems to name all from that period. Rhino has included most if not all of the Born Under the Bad Sign album including the title track , The Hunter, Crosscut Saw, Laundromat Blues and As The Years Go Passing By, along with singles like You’re Gonna Need Me. One of his most famous albums, Live Wire/Blues Power is represented by two tracks, Blues at Sunrise and Blues Power, the latter illustrating his story telling raps. His rapping is also featured on I’ll Play the Blues For You, the title cut of his highly influential mid-seventies album for Stax, which is also represented by such gems as Angel of Mercy and Break Up Somebody’s Home. This period of King’s career might have been delved into a bit more detail in lieu of some of the earlier Stax recordings. Burn Down the Bridge, Little Brother (an interesting topical piece), and his fascinating treatment of Walking the Back Streets and Crying certainly offer more than the odd rendition of Taj Mahal’s She Caught the Katy and Left me a Mule To Ride. After he left Stax in the mid-seventies, his recording career was far from over, as he made several albums for Utopia/Tomato which included (Sir) Mack Rice’s Cold Women With Warm Hearts and Cadillac Assembly Line that became standards with Chicago bands like Magic Slim and the Teardrops, although the commercialized arrangements of some of these makes me wonder if too many recordings from this period were included. After Utopia/Tomato, Albert recorded two albums for Fantasy, who also obtained the Stax catalog for the recordings which Atlantic did not have the rights to. One tune, a version of Robert Cray’s Phone Booth, closes this compilation. Generally, this is an excellent survey of Albert King’s recording career. I’ve already mentioned several selections that I might have included in lieu of several found here. There may have been limitations on Rhino’s right to license recordings from a particular label that led to these specific selections. In any event, the music here is generally excellent even if it may be just a bit imperfect as an “ultimate” survey of his recordings. It is also wonderfully packaged with a booklet containing Bill Greensmith’s first rate essay, and discographical information on the recordings included. If this is not the ultimate collection, it is an excellent one.

By Ron Weinstock

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