Saturday, October 25, 2008

Featured Pipe Smoker: Albert King

Albert King (1923-1992)

Born into a poor farming family in Indianola, Mississippi, he was one of 13 children, and his real name was Albert Nelson. Perhaps his first musical influence was his own father, who also played guitar. King also sang in a family gospel group as a child, and briefly played drums before settling on the guitar.

Albert King came to also be known as "The Velvet Bulldozer" because of his size (6'4" and 280 pounds). He began guitar on a homemade instrument that he made himself and played the guitar "upside down and backwards" because he was left-handed. Although he later played on a custom-made left-handed instrument, he still strung it in reverse because that's how he was used to playing it. He also developed his own way of tuning the strings, keeping the higher strings "slacked," or not tuned as tightly so the notes they played were somewhat lower. His large, strong hands also allowed him to play dramatic, sweeping bent notes.

In this photo, Albert King demonstrates the advantage of being a pipe-smoking guitarist over being, say, a pipe-smoking saxophonist like Archie Shepp (who will be featured here sometime in the future).

Albert King is one of those musicians whose influence continues to be felt down through the generations, not only in blues, but in R&B and rock as well. Some later guitarists who counted Albert King as one of their biggest influences are Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan (the last of which will also be featured here sometime in the future).

Albert King died of a heart attack in Memphis, Tennessee in 1992.

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