Remembering Albert King

(Gibson) Albert King was born on this day in 1923. Gibson takes a look back: Known as one of the "Three Kings of the Blues Guitar" (along with B.B. and Freddie), he was a hero to such titans of the instrument as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and he brought the Flying V to prominence with his beloved "Lucy." But the circumstances of his early years were hardly regal.

King was born under the name Albert Nelson on a cotton plantation in rural Indianola, Mississippi. Somehow he managed to feed himself well enough, at a table shared with 12 brothers and sisters, to grow to a robust size of 6'4" and 250 pounds. It was a frame built on hard work in the family fields, especially after the Nelsons moved to Forrest City, Arkansas in 1931. But amid the blisters and sweat of everyday life there was music—blues and gospel music. Young Albert learned to sing in the fields and at church, where he performed with a family gospel group. And then there was the music he loved, the guitar-based music of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson. Piercing slide, powerful bends, single notes that spoke volumes—these were the things that the young man they would later call "King" picked up in the fields and, later, in the juke joints of the South and Midwest.

Young Albert Nelson had taught himself to play on a homemade, cigar-box guitar, upgrading to the real thing around the time the Nelsons moved to Arkansas. Being left-handed, he found it a challenge learning on a right-handed guitar—strung for a right-handed player. But he stuck with it and eventually started sitting in with Yancey's Band in Forrest City.

As he grew older (and larger), Nelson began to get work on construction sites, where he acquired the nickname, "The Velvet Bulldozer." Moving around the Midwest in search of work, he played in clubs whenever he could, first in St. Louis and later in South Bend, Indiana, where he sang in a gospel group called The Harmony Boys. more on this story

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