Albert King: The Definitive Albert King on Stax

Prime Stax material from a blues legend

Albert King had been bouncing around various blues scenes for over fifteen years when his 1966 signing to Stax led to both the label and artist achieving new levels of commercial success. King’s earlier sides for Parrot, Bobbin, King, Chess and Coun-Tee had found mostly regional success, though 1961’s “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong” did manage to crack the national R&B top twenty. But it was the sides he cut for Stax, many with Booker T & the MGs as his backing band, that would rocket him to stardom and mint an indelible catalog that included the classics “Crosscut Saw” and “Born Under a Bad Sign.”

King’s career at Stax caught fire at precisely the right moment to have maximal impact on the growing American and British blues-rock scenes. His playing was not only a primary influence on Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and other rock guitarists, but the advent of multi-act ballroom shows gave King a stage on which he could play directly to an audience outside the roadhouses and blues clubs; his 1968 performance at the Fillmore West, heard at greater length on Live Wire/Blues Power, is excerpted here in a shortened single version of “Blues Power.” The stinging notes of King’s guitar fit perfectly against the soulful vamping of the Stax house bands (including the Bar-Kays and Memphis Horns), offering continuity with the label’s other acts and differentiating his records from those of other blues guitarists.

King’s decade on Stax provided varied opportunities, including a tribute to Elvis (“Hound Dog”), a session with fellow Stax guitarists Pops Staples and Steve Cropper (the former singing John Lee Hooker’s “Tupelo, Part 1” and the latter singing his original “Water”), sessions at Muscle Shoals (Taj Mahal’s “She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Mule to Ride”) and with John Mayall (“Tell Me What True Love Is”), and an opportunity to wax covers of blues and rock classics, including Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women,” and Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom.” The 34-track set comes with a 20-page booklet of photos, album cover reproductions, session data and detailed liner notes by Bill Dahl. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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