Albert King was a blues guitarist, singer and producer. He was known as one of “The Three Kings of Blues” alongside B.B. King and Freddie King. King was inducted into The Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. His singles “Born Under a Bad Sign” and “Live Wire/ Blues Power” have also been named as Classics of Blues Recordings.
Albert Nelson (he would later take on the name Albert King) was born on April 25, 1923 in Indianola, Mississippi. Nelson was born into a large family, he was one of thirteen children. His mother was church singer and his stepfather was an amateur guitar player and preacher. After moving to Forrest City, Arkansas when he was eight, Nelson took an interest in playing guitar. He self taught himself how to play on a homemade cigar box guitar with the diddley bow one string slide guitar. In 1942, Nelson bought a second hand guitar for $1.25 and this became his first “real” guitar. Although he was left handed, Nelson learned to play the right hand guitar upside down. Although it made playing and learning the chords more difficult, it didn’t stop the fascination Nelson had with playing the Blues. He was influenced by artist such as Robert Nighthawk and Elmore James. After becoming proficient in playing guitar, Nelson joined a group call Yancey’s Band.
While trying to establish a music career, Nelson worked in Osceola Arkansas at a club called T-99, where be played in the house band before he left home to move to Gary, Indiana. While in Indiana, Nelson began playing drums for fellow bluesman Jimmy Reed. It was during his time in Indiana that he would adopt the name Albert King. In 1953, after meeting Parrot label owner Al Benson, King convinced Benson to allow him to record him as a blues singer and guitarist. Upon the acceptance of the offer, King recorded “Bad Luck Blues” and “Be on Your Merry Way” but after receiving only fourteen dollars for the songs King left Parrot and Indiana and relocated to St. Louis. While in St. Louis, King began recording for the Bobbin and King labels. While on the Bobbin label King had a minor hit called “I’m a Lonely Man.” His biggest hit while on both those labels would be “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong” which would make it to number fourteen on the R&B charts in 1961. It wasn’t until 1966 when he signed with Stax Records that he would obtain the success he worked so hard for. While on Stax Records, King began working with producer and drummer Al Jackson, guitarist Steve Cropper, keyboardist Booker T. Jones and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn where they would create a sound that influence by the Memphis soul strains.
King became the first bluesman to play at the legendary San Francisco venue, Fillmore West. King then went on to play with acts such as Jimi Hendrix and John Mayall. King also became the first bluesman to record with a symphony orchestra. In the 1970’s King toured extensively all over the U.S. and Europe playing to rock and soul crowds. In the mid 1970’s Stax ran into financial difficulties which lead King to sign with Utopia label, which was a subsidiary of RCA records. In 1978 he left Utopia and signed with Tomato Records and by 1983 he would then sign with Fantasy Records. While on Fantasy Records he released “San Francisco ‘83” and “I’m in a Phone Booth, Baby” which would lead King back to his blues roots and would land him Grammy nominations. During this time he would also be inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame. In 1985, King announced his retirement due to health problems but would still continue to play concerts and festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe.
On December 19, 1992 King played his final concert in Los Angeles. Two days later on December 21, 1992 he would pass away at the age of 69, at his home in Memphis due to a heart attack. His death would come shortly before he was supposed to start a major European tour. At his funeral, King’s close friend and comrade would play a slide guitar version of “Amazing Grace.” Upon the conclusion of his funeral his hearse was followed by a procession led by the Memphis Homs down Beale Street in the town of Edmondson, Arkansas, where he was laid to rest at Paradise Gardens Cemetery.
Throughout his career King’s first instrument would be a homemade cigar box guitar with the diddley bow one string slide guitar. His next guitar would be a Guild acoustic which was purchased second hand. His signature guitar would be the 1958 Gibson Flying V, which he would name Lucy. Upon retiring Lucy, he would begin using the Flying V built by Dan Erlewine and another custom guitar built by Radley Prokopow. He used a minor tuning which was C# G# B E G# C# but he never used the sixth string. His amps of chose would be an Acoustic amplifier, with a speaker cabinet with two 15” speakers and a horn. Later he would also use a MXR Phase 90 effects pedal.