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Albert King Biography

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Albert King (April 25, 1923 – December 21, 1992) was an influential American blues guitarist and singer.

One of the "Three Kings" of the Blues guitar (along with B.B. King and Freddie King), he stood 6 foot 4" weighed in at 260 pounds (118 kg) and was known as "The Velvet Bulldozer". He was born Albert Nelson into a humble family in Indianola, Mississippi, at a cotton plantation where he worked in his early days. One of his earlier influences in music was his own father, Will Nelson, who would often play the guitar. During his childhood he would also sing at a family gospel group at a church. He began his professional work as a musician with a group called In The Groove Boys, in Osceola, Arkansas. He also briefly played drums for Jimmy Reed's band. The electric guitar became his signature instrument, his preference being the Gibson Flying V, which he named "Lucy".

His first hit was "I'm A Lonely Man", released in 1959. However, it was not until his 1961 release "Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong" that he had a major hit, ranking 14th on the R&B charts. In 1966 he signed with the famous Stax record label and in 1967 released his legendary album Born Under A Bad Sign. The title track of that album (written by Booker T. Jones and William Bell) became King's most well known song and has been covered by many artists (from Cream to Homer Simpson). On February 1, 1968 King was hired by promoter Bill Graham to open the show at the Winterland for John Mayall and Jimi Hendrix. Those who attended this Winterland show report that King almost "stole the show" as the throng was of course anticipating the electricity of Hendrix, but King had them wrapped around his finger after a couple of heartfelt songs. A highlight was when Albert meshed a broken string replacement into a song without missing a beat.

King was a left-handed "upside-down/backwards" guitarist: he was left-handed but usually played right-handed guitars flipped over upside-down so the low E string was on the bottom. In later years he played a custom-made guitar that was basically left-handed, but had the strings reversed (as he was used to playing). He also used very unorthodox tunings (i.e., tuning as low as C to allow him to make sweeping string bends). A "less is more" type blues player, he was known for his expressive "bending" of notes, a technique characteristic of blues guitarists. Jimi Hendrix also played right-handed guitars that were flipped over, but in contrast, Hendrix also flipped the nut and bridge to retain the string layout (low E on top).

King influenced many later blues guitarists including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, Gary Moore, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Eric Clapton's guitar solo on the 1968 Cream hit "Strange Brew" from the album Disraeli Gears is a close emulation of King's solo on his Stax Records hit "Oh, Pretty Woman".

One of King's last contributions was on guitarist Gary Moore's 1990 Still Got the Blues album, spawning a new version of "Oh, Pretty Woman" (a European hit single). This led to a number of guest appearances on Moore's European tours, along with Albert Collins.

King died on December 21, 1992 from a heart attack in Memphis, Tennessee. He has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
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