Albert King was one of the founding fathers of electric blues, and his instantly recognizable sound has been a defining influence. Because of his last name, Albert is affectionately known as one of the “three kings” of the blues. The other two kings are, of course, B.B. King and Freddie King.
Albert was a Mississippi native, and like so many others in Mississippi, he was picking cotton. King, like many other bluesmen from the area, made his own first guitar to learn to play and eventually made the trip to Chicago to pursue his musical ambitions. After ending up in Indiana, he played with Jimmy Reed before cutting his first record, of no success.
Subsequently, he traveled about, cutting several other records of various popularity in St. Louis before achieving his first Billboard hit, “Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong.” In 1966, King signed a record deal with Memphis-based Stax Records, a place he would become indelibly associated with for decades to come.
At Stax, King’s popularity skyrocketed. Stax Records had recorded several popular bluesmen, though none so successful as King, and the label was well known for its unique sound and its pioneering influence in soul music, which can be felt in King’s work. His string bending, interesting tuning methods (standard, tuned two full steps down) and use of the electric guitar were all rather progressive at the time, giving Albert a trademark sound that can be instantly identified to this day.
In the late 1960s he pumped out hit after hit: “Crosscut Saw,” “I’ll Play the Blues for You,” and his biggest hit “Born Under a Bad Sign.” Many of King’s songs continue to be timeless blues classics. His association with Stax lasted throughout his long and successful career, with the majority of his records coming under the Stax name.
In 1969, Albert King was the debut act at the legendary Fillmore West with Jimi Hendrix. Already a blues giant, he went on to regularly play at large venues like the Fillmore, and enjoyed a long and successful career, playing with other household blues names at countless festivals and recording regularly. His massive influence can be felt in a number of blues-heavy rock groups today.
Stevie Ray Vaughan, who played with King during one recorded session, cited King as a major influence on his playing, as did Eric Clapton and Gary Moore, who had King guest star on his major hit album Still Got The Blues.
Over his lifetime, Albert King recorded dozens of records, and in 1983 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. King continued to recorded strenuously, right up until his death from heart failure in 1992.