kirk west photo
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 27, 1985
By Steve Newton
Musician Magazine calls him “the most powerful blues guitarist in the world.” He has won awards from the Montreaux Jazz Festival, the French Academie du Jazz, and the Memphis Blues Foundation, and received three Grammy nominations. He is known as “The Icepicker”, “The Master of the Telecaster”, and “The Houston Twister”. His real name is Albert Collins, and he’s coming to the Town Pump for two nights, Friday and Saturday, September 27 and 28.
Collins was born in a log cabin on a farm near Leona, Texas, in 1932 (he’ll be 53 this Wednesday). Strangely enough, blues was not his first musical calling, as he pointed out in a phone call from his home in L.A.
“When I started out I wanted to be a jazz player, you know. I was raised up mostly around jazz musicians, you know. And I went off into the blues ’cause my Daddy used to play guitar too, you know. And I was influenced by John Lee Hooker, and Lightning Hopkins, which was a cousin o’ mine. And that’s what started me out wantin’ to play the blues.”
Texas bluesmen such as T-Bone Walker, Guitar Slim, Gatemouth Brown, and Johnny Guitar Watson also had an early effect on Collins, and later on he absorbed the Chicago sounds of Elmore James, B.B. King, and Howlin’ Wolf. In the early ’60s his instrumental recordings–“Sno Cone”, “The Freeze”, “Icy Blue”, and the million-selling “Frosty”–became known as “the Cool Sound”.
In the mid-’60s, following a move from Texas to California, Albert released three albums on the Imperial label, produced by members of Canned Heat. Those albums won him a regular berth at the Fillmore West in San Francisco and an endless series of gigs from San Diego to Vancouver. He first played here in 1969, at Rohan’s Rockpile.
“That was a real nice place for me to play at,” he recalls. “Vancouver’s like my second home. It’s been so long since I’ve been up there, man, I figured they forgot about me.”
Collins has been playing the blues for over thirty years now. His “cool sound”–a combination of icy echo; ringing, sustained high notes; an ultra-percussive right-hand attack; and an unheard-of minor-key guitar tuning–has helped make him one of the most heralded and unique bluesmen around today. Albert King names Collins as his favourite guitarist, and John Lee Hooker says, “I’m an Albert Collins freak!”
So which blues artists does Collins appreciate himself nowadays?
“Well now I’ve just been, you know, hangin’ out with Stevie Ray Vaughan, you know. We play around together. And I’ve always been partial to Eric Clapton also, you know–he’s the guy I really wanted to meet. I want to meet him real bad.”