|Albert King Live album |
featuring Rory Gallagher (I still have the vinyl)
As a budding guitarist, I soon learned that writing songs was not enough to help me become better at my craft. I emulated the top guitarists of the 60's, studied what they studied, and listened to what influenced them.
Meeting Rory Gallagher
One of my favorite guitarists was Rory Gallagher. The first song I ever heard from him was an old instrumental called "Norman Invasion." Not really a blues song and hey, there was no singing. I loved the song. It served as a companion to my "Scottish Tea" song by the Amboy Dukes. I wanted more Rory expecting much of the same. Well, his blues/rock mix just knock me off my rocker.
Well, one thing led to another and I followed everything he recorded and played, From Taste to solo stuff, I paid attention to articles and interviews and eventually seeing him play live and actually meeting Irish guitarist in person and having a decent conversation with the fine lad.
Rory, along with Clapton, Beck and Page, but mostly Rory, steered me to the originators of American Blues. I bought album after album of Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf (yeah!), John Lee Hooker, Hubert Sumlin, and Albert King. Well there were three blues kings: Freddie King, B B King, and Albert King. To learn about Freddie, ask Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad. To learn about B B, ask Eric Clapton. To learn about Albert, the first person to ask was Rory Gallagher.
Rory impressed Albert King and had many jam sessions with him and was honored to perform on a couple of Albert King vinyls. Since I bought anything that had the name Rory Gallagher on it, I bought Albert Live. What in the world!
Here we have an older black blues musician playing the folk sound music of the South (St. Louis to be precise) and a young white Irish rock guitarist who was influenced heavily on American music and perhaps Lonnie Mack.
Meeting Albert King
Well, even before I ever had the chance to meet and see Rory play, I had the opportunity to see this Albert King guy. He was scheduled to play at the Kingston mines in Chicago, in 1980, if I can recall. His opening act was young bluesman Jimmy Johnson who just released a local album, Hot Whacks.
Now I have gone to various blues clubs and smaller venues back then, seeing famous and not-so famous musicians. Kingston Mines was the most memorable place. To this day it showcases many great blues artists and if you want to see history and history-in-the-making, then this is THEEEE place.
In between sets, my buddy and I went outside to the front of the building. And there it was! The gigantic bus with the name "Albert King" on it. No Chicago cop in his right mind would write a parking ticket for that legendary vehicle. If you saw this thing your heart will start to pump because you would be witness to an awesome machine. And then, after staring at the thing, we wondered, "Do you think Albert is in there or what?"
Just as we were about to go back in to our table, the bus door opens, one guy comes out and walks past us and then slowly down the steps came King Albert! Full smile and hat. "Howdy, gentlemen, how you all doin'?". We were dumbfounded. "Great Albert! We came here to see you play" he then reached out and shook both of our hands and said "Thank you - I appreciate that very much."
Then he went ahead of us and disappeared somewhere. We hurried back to the table and waited another 30 minutes. While we were waiting, my buddy and I were discussing how tall Albert was and how huge his hands were. I was perplexed at how a guy with large fingers could play guitar. I was struggling to play guitar with skinny fingers so I figured he must've had a wide guitar neck.
At that precise moment, he came on stage. He made a short introduction and thank you and proceeded to play. I watched his huge fingers. He played with no effort - No gymnastics like the hair rock bands did. No sliding up and down and showing signs of struggle with the guitar like many other guitarists do. Here was a mature player. Playing the frets is second nature - he played with such an ease that he made it seem that there was no effort to learn guitar. I tried to watch and memorize every lick he played, but I was caught up in the excitement of the music and the sound.
Another thing I noticed is that Albert could play one note in a short series and turn it into a dynamic melody. I have heard other guitarists try that but it sounds static. Albert's control over the strings was obvious and his singing was perfectly complimentary. The guy even asked for song suggestions at the end of his set.
We suggested "Messin' with the Kid" and he complied and followed that song with "I'm a Man". (The Blues Brothers were still big then.)
As with life, all good things soon come to an end. But the memory of that performance and meeting the man - the legend - and seeing his world famous bus has lasted a lifetime.