Albert King Nelson (April 25, 1923 – December 21, 1992). He was an American blues guitarist and singer, and a major influence in the world of blues guitar playing. As one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar” (along with B.B. King and Freddie King), he is perhaps best known for the 1967 single “Born Under a Bad Sign”.
In May 2013, King was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Albert was a big man and the Flying V guitar that was his weapon of choice. It was like a toy in his huge hands. He eschewed picks, preferring to pluck the strings with his fingers.
His bluesy bends and stinging notes influenced a later generation of players including Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jimi Hendrix, among others.
The song “Blues Power” is from the album Live Wire/Blues Power by recorded live in June 1968 at the Fillmore Auditorium. This was his first live album. Leftovers from these live recordings were released later in 1990 in the albums Wednesday Night in San Francisco and Thursday Night in San Francisco.
Upside-down Flying V
Albert King was a left-handed guitarist, but he played a right-handed Gibson Flying V guitar flipped upside down without restringing it. This unconventional approach resulted in the low E string being on the bottom and the high E string on the top, which significantly impacted his playing style. The inverted string arrangement allowed King to execute his signature string bends, where he would pull the strings down rather than push them up, creating a distinct and expressive sound.
One of King’s most recognizable techniques was his use of wide, slow, and fluid bends, which produced an emotive and vocal-like quality in his playing. He often combined these bends with a stinging vibrato and sharp, staccato-like picking to create a powerful, biting tone. In addition to his single-note lead work, King frequently employed double-stop techniques and would occasionally incorporate a fingerpicking style, further diversifying his playing.
Throughout his career, King primarily used Gibson Flying V guitars, which he affectionately named “Lucy” after his grandmother. He initially played a 1958 Gibson Flying V, but later switched to a custom-made left-handed version. The guitar was equipped with a humbucking pickup in the neck position and a single-coil pickup in the bridge position, allowing him to achieve a wide range of tones.
To further shape his tone, Albert King relied heavily on his choice of amplifiers. Early in his career, he played through Fender Bassman and Super Reverb amplifiers. However, he eventually settled on using the solid-state Acoustic Control Corporation’s 270 and 301 models, which provided him with a distinctive, clean, and powerful sound. King often utilized the amplifier’s built-in reverb and treble boost to add depth and bite to his tone.