Born in 1923, Albert King had recorded a series of influential blues records for a variety of labels dating back to 1953, before he achieved pop stardom in the late Sixties as part of the innovative Stax roster.
His first album for the Stax label, Born Under A Bad Sign (1967), combined his hard, unflashy guitar playing with the sleek sound of the label’s house band, Booker T & The MG’s.
King coined a style of attacking and holding searingly loud bent-string notes that became the cornerstone of all blues-based rock guitar playing.
The self-taught, left-handed guitarist played his trademark 1959 Flying V upside down, in an impossible tuning of his own design.
His most famous album, Live Wire/Blues Power, recorded at a 1968 Fillmore West concert, introduced a generation of rock & roll fans to the blues.
King drove his band’s tour bus himself and was sometimes found working on the engine before or after gigs. He carried a pistol in his boot and a machine gun on the bus. At times, he would pull off to the side of the road in desolate areas, walk into the woods and waste some trees with his Tommy gun just for kicks.
Though King was not formally educated, he insisted on handling much of his business personally on a cash-only basis. At a menacing 6′ 4″ and 300lbs plus, he was not a man to oppose, and his penchant for firing band members on the spot is rivalled only by James Brown.
King’s historical importance is obscured by the fact that his hostility towards the music business kept him from recording for most of the last decades of his life.
King took Stevie Ray Vaughan under his wing, teaching the young guitarist the secret of his seemingly indecipherable tuning. In his final years, King met a young Memphis guitarist named Little Jimmy King and made him his protégé.
Albert King made his last stage appearance on 28 November 1992 with Jimmy King, singing I’ll Play The Blues For You, As The Years Go Passing By, Born Under A Bad Sign and Crosscut Saw.
Albert was at Jimmy’s show on 20 December 1992 but took ill during the performance and was rushed to the hospital. He died the next day, on 21 December, after suffering a massive heart attack. He was 69.