Albert Collins was at the forefront of the Blues revival of the mid-80s, along with fellow Texans Stevie Ray Vaughan and Johnny Copeland and with Robert Cray. Known as ‘The Ice-Man’ for his sparse, ringing guitar tone, he would often wander into the audience while playing. Albert took a while to get famous and left too soon, but while he was here he put on a fantastic show and his fingers could rip out a riff that could freeze the blood. Jimi Hendrix quoted him as an influence, and he didn’t use a plectrum much either.
Raised in Houston’s Third Ward along with Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and Johnny Copeland, Albert started his music career learning to play the organ. After seeing his cousin, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown and T-Bone Walker playing in the local clubs, he switched to guitar, studying with local Bluesman, Joe Guitar Hughes.
Quickly developing his piercing sound -using a capo and minor ‘Bentonia’ tunings- Albert led a 10-piece band, The Rhythm Rockers, as they recorded the instrumental ‘The Freeze’ in 1958. They pursued the theme with ‘Sno-Cone’ and ‘Icy Blue’ and had a million seller with ‘Frosty’ in 1962. By then Albert had discovered the joys of an extra-long guitar lead and was having a great time playing his Texas Blues literally all over the local clubs, and was even known to keep playing while he went next door to order pizza! In 1965 he moved to Kansas City, where he met and married Gwendolyn.
Albert shows his commanding tone on ‘Frosty’;
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In 1968, Bob Hite of Canned Heat persuaded Albert to move to LA, where he picked up session work and some pretty good gigs, like opening for the Allman Brothers at the Fillmore. His 1965 album ‘The Cool Sound of…’, his collected singles, was re-issued as ‘Truckin’ With Albert Collins’ which contained only one vocal performance, but where he demonstrated his special way with a Telecaster. Albert gigged and recorded steadily through the seventies, signing for Alligator in 1977 where his ‘Ice-Pickin’ album showed the pure energy he could generate. Stevie Ray was starting to take the Blues into the charts in 1984, and Albert’s breakthrough came the following year with the Grammy winning ‘Showdown’ album, which he shared with Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland. After playing Live Aid, Albert cut the ‘Cold Snap’ album which was also nominated for a Grammy. Moving his base to Las Vegas and his record contract to Virgin, Albert made a cameo appearance in the film ‘Adventures in Babysitting’.
At the Montreux festival with Albert and Gary Moore;
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[stextbox id=”custom” caption=”Albert Collins Discography” float=”true” align=”left” width=”300″]This album opened a lot of people’s eyes to Albert’s distinctive guitar sound. With his notes twisted, held aloft like trophies and then clustered like stars, Albert could pick a tune.
[/stextbox]Albert was always very popular in Europe and played all over the world with the touring Blues Festival circuit. That distinctive guitar sound made him a welcome guest on albums by Bowie, Mayall, Cray, BB King, John Lee Hooker, Gary Moore and lots more. Several live albums showed Albert’s skill at working audiences, who loved his flashy stage presence as much as his virtuoso playing. Sadly, Albert was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and he lost his fight a few months later, in November 1993.