Albert King

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Name: Albert King (born Albert Nelson)

DOB/Location: 25 April, 1923, Indianola, Mississippi. d. 21 December, 1992

Brief Biography

Along with his namesakes B.B. and Freddie, Albert King was a massive presence in blues guitar, quoted by guitarists from Hendrix to Clapton as a formative influence. He forged a quite unique style and sound by playing ‘upside down’ - using a conventionally strung guitar left-handed - which gave him a particularly effective way of bending the thinnest strings. This, combined with some maverick tunings on his Gibson Flying V’s, gave him a set up like no other. His raw, electrifying tone (he played with his thumb, not a pick) contrasted with his smooth singing voice, quite different from his contemporaries. Born in 1923, King had some minor successes before his breakout hit ‘Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong’ in 1961. However, his real legacy starts with his work for Stax records, where he was backed by Soul legends Booker T & The MGs, and recorded such classics as ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ and ‘Crosscut Saw’, as released on the album compilation Born Under A Bad Sign in 1967. The punchy Stax sound lent King crossover success on the pop charts - he also experimented with a symphonic ballads album and even an Elvis covers record. However, it is as a bluesman that he will be remembered, as reinforced by his later touring and recording, which included In Session for Canadian TV in duet with Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1983 - the torch being passed from one master to the next. The album of the same name is worth checking out - however, the starting point to hear King’s playing is definitely Born Under A Bad Sign.


Albert King is synonymous with the Gibson Flying V - he played a 1959 model, and then a mid-'60s model when that guitar was lost. From 1972 onwards he played a custom guitar based on a Flying V named 'Lucy', which was built by Dan Erlwine. Reports vary over the tuning that King favoured, but Erlwine suggests that he used C-F-C-F-A-D, with very light guage strings. 

Albert King seems to have favoured solid state amplifiers by Acoustic and later a Roland Jazz Chorus - another unorthodox element in his unique approach.  

There's a load of great info on Albert King's guitars and amps in this Vintage Guitar article.

Related Lessons

Lick #02: Albert King: P1 & P2 Linker
Lick #09: Albert King: P3 double flick

Lick #16: Albert King: IV chord out

Lick #23: Albert King: P2 Call It

Lick #30: Albert King: P2 ST to M3

Lick #44: Albert King: P1 Jump P2

Lick #51: Albert King: P3 up to V

Lick #37: Albert King: P1 The AK

Videos To Check Out

This Canadian TV show In Session (broadcast 1983) features a number of Albert King standards performed in duet with Stevie Ray Vaughan including ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’, in the video at the top of this page. The full footage can be seen here. 

Here's another version of ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’.

‘Crosscut Saw’ (terrible picture, sound OK)

I’ll Play The Blues For You

‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ and ‘Blues Power’ Live at Fillmore East, 1970


Guitar Aficionado Article
Stax Records Profile

The Guitar Greats



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