Albert King – “The Velvet Bulldozer”
Albert King (1923-1992), was known for his ferocious string-bending skills and soulful, smokey vocals.
In his early days King was once nicknamed “The Velvet Bulldozer”. This was because of his deep smooth singing, along with a large individual. He stood over 6’4″ and weighed at least 250lbs. He also drove a bulldozer in his younger days while working to make a living as a musician.
Despite his status as one of the most influential figures in blues music, thanks to his instantly recognizable sound, Albert King’s identity remained a point of contention for a long time. He claimed in interviews to have been born in Indianola on April 25, 1923 (or 1924); thus, his appearances at Club Ebony were always treated as a homecoming. He frequently asserted that he was B. B. King’s half-brother because B. B.’s father was also named Albert King. In 1942, however, he applied for a Social Security card under Albert Nelson and listed his father, Will Nelson, as his legal guardian. He also listed his birthplace as “Abode” (likely Aberdeen), Mississippi.
In the 1940s and 1950s, he was also known by his stage name, Albert Nelson, among musicians. In 1953, after B. B. had become a national blues star, Albert King released his first album under that name. By 1959, he was being advertised as “B. B. King’s brother” in newspapers. Similarly, he sometimes went by the moniker “Blues Boy,” also used by B. B., and he gave his guitar the name Lucy (B. B.’s guitar was named Lucille). B. B., on the other hand, insisted that Albert was only a friend and not a relative and famously shot back, “My name was King before I was famous.”
King claims that he was five years old when his father abandoned the family and eight when he and his mother, Mary Blevins, and two sisters relocated to the Forrest City, Arkansas, region. King revealed that he and his relatives had also spent time in Arcola, Mississippi. He fashioned his first guitar out of a cigar box, a branch, and broom wire before spending $1.25 for a real one. Having to learn guitar on his own as a southpaw, he flipped his instrument over. Before being able to support himself as a singer, King worked as a cotton picker, bulldozer operator, and in the construction industry, among other vocations.
Originally from Osceola, Arkansas, King’s first band was the In the Groove Boys. In the early ’50s, he played drums for bluesman Jimmy Reed in the Gary/Chicago area and sang in a gospel group called the Harmony Kings in South Bend, Indiana. After recording his first song for Parrot Records there, he moved to Lovejoy, Illinois, from Osceola. His time with Stax Records in Memphis (1966–1974) and subsequent recordings in St. Louis brought him renewed acclaim. King’s funky, soulful approach helped him maintain a following among African Americans, while rock audiences and artists built a new, loyal fan base.
The Stax songs “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “Cross Cut Saw,” “The Hunter,” and “I’ll Play the Blues for You” are among his most well-known works, along with the album Live Wire/Blues Power, which was recorded at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Although he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983 and remained a key figure in the blues scene afterward, King was never able to replicate the commercial success of artists like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, two of his most famous disciples. On December 21, 1992, he passed away in Memphis, where he frequently resided in his latter years, due to a heart attack.