When asked about the Blues, I always say that are three artists I love the most, which I really should stop saying, since I love so many blues artists. Either way, those three are, in no particular order, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Albert Collins.
The strange thing is that, no matter where you go, any music store that sells blues albums will sell B.B. King and Buddy Guy, but Albert Collins can be pretty hard to find unless you shop at Amazon or something. I’m not sure why that is, possibly because he died in 1993, or maybe because he was most prolific in the 80′s as far as albums go, and for some reason the only blues artist from the 80′s that is ever widely distributed nowadays is Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Well, hard to find or not, I love Albert Collins, not least for the fact that he was unique amongst guitarists for his playing style. He tuned his guitar into an open minor key (usually “F minor”) and used a capo on some really high frets, and then never used a pick. Basically, he got through most of his songs using various “phrases”, so the “phrase” of one song might show up in a later song. This isn’t unusual, but his particular phrases were definitely unique.
The other thing that characterizes Albert Collins is his nickname: “The Iceman”. The particular sound of his guitar was what I can only describe as “icy”, and so he was given that nickname and stuck with it, usually naming his albums after some kind of reference to his nickname. Hence, today’s album:
So far, this is my favorite Albert Collins album of the 4 I have. However, I noticed that he uses a distinct pattern in creating albums, so I’d say you could listen to any of his albums and be just fine.
It starts off with a Little Johnny Taylor cover called “If You Love Me Like You Say”, which is kind of a generic blues song (ok ok what blues isn’t generic right?), but is a good way to start since it introduces the sound without wasting precious original material (which is always the best in the middle of the album). I do enjoy the horns on this song, however, as horns are a big part of Collins’ sound, in fact I don’t think I’ve even heard a song he’s done without them.
We then move on to “Blue Monday Hangover”, which is a slow jam, so you know, as not to flare up a headache. It’s also a cover I think, but I don’t know who wrote it. The lyrics actually kind of don’t make a lot of sense, but it’s still a pretty fun song, and the guitar solo in the middle is exceptional, so it’s still a good’un.
We then start with the originals, which I always feel are much better, as I really like Collins’ method of songwriting. We start off with “I Got A Problem”, which is already a great title for a Blues song, and the lyrics are great:
I’ve got a problem, I said I’ve got a problem
I’ve got a problem, people, I’ve got a problem
I’ve got a problem ’bout my woman, I’ve got a problem ’bout my wife
Ok, pretty standard yes? Well then we keep going:
Now my wife is no. 1, my woman is no. 2
My woman would do things for me that my wife wouldn’t do
‘Cause I dig my wife, but you understand
Sometimes it takes 2, ya’ll, to satisfy one man
My problems started out when I started messin’ with no. 3
She called my wife and told on my woman and me
And that’s why Albert Collins is one of my favorite blues guys.
The album moves on to a song called “The Highway Is Like A Woman”, which is another slow one. It’s both about life on the road and about how women are like the highway (“soft shoulders and dangerous curves”), and uhh sometimes the analogy falls apart, but well that’s the risk you take when you’re writing the Blues.
We then move on to my second-favorite Albet Collins song, the boogie-inspired “Brick”. The horns introduce a fast-paced and very swingin’ tune against which Collins plays one of his favorite solos. Then the lyrics start, and that’s when this song turns into gold:
Brick, baby, that’s what I’m gonna throw upside your head
I said a brick, baby, that’s what I’m gonna throw upside your head
Yeah you got me so worried, got me talking out of my head
Yeah you know I love you, and you know my love is true
Yeah I can’t understand it, baby, the way you treat me like you do
I’m gonna chunk a brick, baby, gonna chunk a brick at you
Really there’s nothing else I have to say.
The next song is a particular jazzy style that I wish I knew the word for. It’s called “Don’t Go Reaching Across My Plate”, and it’s a great song that is literally about people reaching across his plate, and how he doesn’t like it. The song also includes some stereotypical “Southern” dishes that don’t really exist, like “BBQ Possum”, “Armadillo stew”, etc. Maybe I just think it’s a stereotype because I have seen every episode of The Beverly Hillbillies.
Then we have a really funky tune called “Give Me My Blues”, which is a discourse on the fact that Albert Collins plays his music “the only way I can”. In fact it sums up the attitude of the Blues pretty well with the line “Some people really dig it, some just don’t understand”. I belong to the former category, for sure.
And finally, the album ends with a 9 minute slow track, which is pretty consistent among Albert Collins’ albums. It’s called “Snowed In”, and is about being stuck in Chicago in the middle of a snowstorm and trying to start his truck. The actual starting of the truck is documented with sound effects Collins’ plays on his guitar, which is great. He scrapes across the strings to indicate scraping your feet across the snow, and twangs a low note to indicate trying to start the truck, and so on. It’s quite entertaining to listen to, and Albert mumbles the whole time, which is also great. The song ends with the truck finally starting (the sound of the engine kicking in is provided by the drummer) and a celebratory guitar solo ends the album.
It’s really too bad Mr. Collins isn’t more appreciate nowadays, his albums are very entertaining and his guitar playing is something that has never been heard before or since, but I guess it’s kind of like the Blues in general, if you aren’t a “significant” blues player then forget about having a long line of posthumous releases and important footnotes in magazines, etc. I’m all right with it, though. Like Collins himself said, some people really dig it, some just don’t understand.
Like Album Du Jour? Why not make it official on Facebook!