ALBERT COLLINS (By Phil Davies)
Born Albert Gene Drewery, 1 October 1932, Leona, Texas
Died 24 November 1993, Las Vegas, Nevada
Albert grew up on a farm in Texas with two farming parents and was exposed to music at a very early age. In 1941 the Collins family decided to move back to Houston. Albert continued school but found it to be enough after 10th grade and quit in favour of working. He was first interested in the organ (Jimmy McGriff being a hero) and the piano, but soon he found a lot bigger interest in the guitar, which he had started to play at the local church. His first guitar heroes soon came to be his cousin Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker. Other influences were T-Bone Walker, Clarence Gatemouth Brown (he copied his capo stylings from him) and Guitar Slim. Other budding guitarists in the Third Ward district were Johnny Guitar Watson and Johnny Copeland. However he didn't become really serious about his guitar playing until he, in the beginning of the 50s, started to tour the black juke joints in Houston's black areas. Albert once said that he was raised around sax players like Illin ois Jacquet, and that down in Texas you could choose jazz, R&B or blues ; he became a bluesman, becoming quite a showman (ala Guitar Slim) and using minor key tunings for his guitar.
In 1952 he formed his own group, Albert Collins & the Rhythm Rockers, which included musicians like Eddie "Guitar Slim" Jones (voc, el-g) and "Little" Milton Campbell (voc, el-g). His first issued recording in 1958, The Freeze, on Kangaroo, quickly gave him the a "jump start" and a reputation as one of the greatest blues guitarists alive, and his cool and funky guitar trademark came to mark his career permanently. Albert held down a steady day job mixing paint for cars and was reluctant to travel far from home back then
During the 60s he recorded for several independent labels like Kangaroo, Great Scott,TCF & Hall-Way (from Beaumont, Texas). Frosty from 62 became a hit, Collins claimed that young locals Johnny Winter and Janis Joplin were watching in the studio when he cut it. Many of his songs were given cool little titles as Frosty, Sno-cone and Defrost. Together with his band he also toured with different performers as blues guitar player Albert King, vocalist Little Richard* and guitarist and harmonica player Jimmy Reed. In 1965 he dissolved his group and settled in Kansas City. He was still very musical active, and played with legendary musicians as jazz-guitarist Wes Montgomery and organ player Jimmy McGriff.
In 1968 he was persuaded by Bob Hite, from the famous blues/rock band Canned Heat, to move to California where Hite had arranged a record deal for Albert with Imperial Records. Albert decided to move out to California and with Hite as producer he cut three LPs for the company. By the same time Albert started touring the American west coast, and played among others with guitarist Robert Cray. Collins' West coast tours also generated in him inspiring a whole new generation of blues guitar players as Robert Cray, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Joe Louis Walker.
>From 1972 to 78 Collins was quite tired of music and played more and more seldom, and during these six years he completely stopped recording. The whole matter went so far that he during 1974 and 75 totally quit playing the guitar. Instead he took a job as a construction worker, and e.g. did work on Neil Diamond's house. After hard persuasions from his wife, Gwen Collins, Albert decided to return to his music career in the late 70s. In 1978 Collins got a contract with one of Americas biggest blues record companies , the Chicago based Alligator Records.
The years with Alligator, backed by his own band the Icebreakers, generated some of his best recordings ever. His work on Alligator quickly helped him back into international blues society and the musical spotlights. Many of his recordings on Alligator became Grammy nominated, but it was not until the record "Showdown" from 1985 with Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland, that Collins finally got the big respect and acknowledgement that he so well deserved. Thanks to roots guitarist George Thorogood, Albert (and Bo Diddley) jammed with him memorably on the US portion of Live Aid to a global audience.
In 1991 he moved to the Virgin owned record company Pointblank were he recorded three great and genuine recordings. He also participated with B.B King on Gary Moore's album After Hours from 1992. The collaboration with Moore also led to Albert being the guest blues artist on Moore's following world tour in 1993. He was also featured on a live recording with Moore (Blues Alive) which was recorded during the tour. Collins has also participated on one of jazz saxophone player Branford Marsalis' albums. In 1993 Collins released a collection titled "Collins Mix- the best of" which included prominent guest stars as Gary Moore, B.B King, Branford Marsalis and harmonica player Kim Wilson from the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
In 1993 when Albert Collins was at his peak of his career, he received the tragic diagnosis that he was suffering from incurable liver cancer. Despite the cancer he continued to play and tour clubs and different festivals with his band the Icebreakers until his imminent death. The last recordings with the Icebreakers resulted in his last record, Live 92-93 which was released in 1995, and captures one of the worlds top blues guitarists in top shape. On the 24th of November, 1993, at the age of 61, Albert Collins tragically passed away in peace at his home in Las Vegas, only six months after being diagnosed with cancer. Post SAO guitar gods like Hendrix, J Winter and S R Vaughan acknowledged their debt to the Iceman's early influence
Albert Collins was a moderate vocalist, but instead an incredible and extremely magnificent guitarist with a reliable phat and juicy Fender Telecaster sound. With his peculiar, original and funky guitar trademark Collins quickly established himself as one of the world's leading blues guitar players, together with fellow guitar colleagues as B.B King, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton and Albert King. Between 1958 and 1971, Collins mainly recorded instrumental Texas blues influenced by artists as T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker, Lightning' Hopkins and various jazz musicians. It would take until the mid 1970s before he finally stepped up in front of the microphone for the first time. During the years with Alligator he developed his vocal skills, and after being faced with hard persuasions from his friends and from his wife Gwen, he finally agreed to give his vocals a chance. Eventually he turned out to become a really great singer as well. Collins who since the 50s been a devoted Fender T elecaster fan, has also been honored by Fender with an own Fender Telecaster Signature model.
*This Albert Collins is NOT the same person who co-wrote "Lucille" and "Slippin' and Slidin'" with and for Little Richard.
Cool Sound Of A C -original Hall Way lp later reissued on Blue Thumb
Showdown - feat Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Robert Cray 1985
Ice Picking -both Alligator releases
Complete Imperial Recordings 1991
(* where much of the above info was adapted)
Albert Collins at Alligator Records
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