Albert Collins – Lights Are On, But Nobody’s Home
Albert Gene Drewery a.k.a. Albert Collins (October 1, 1932 – November 24, 1993) was an American electric blues guitarist and singer with a distinctive guitar style. Collins was noted for his powerful playing and his use of altered tunings and capo. His long association with the Fender Telecaster led to the title “The Master of the Telecaster”.
Albert Collins was born in Leona, Texas, on 1 October 1932.He was introduced to the guitar at an early age through his cousin Lightnin’ Hopkins, also a Leona resident, who frequently played at family associations (reunions). In 1938 his family relocated to Marquez, Texas, eventually settling in Houston, Texas, in 1941 where he later attended Jack Yates High School.Collins initially took piano lessons when he was young but during periods when his piano tutor was unavailable his cousin Willow Young would loan him his guitar and taught Collins the altered tuning that he used throughout his career.Collins tuned his guitar to an open F minor chord , and then added a capo at the 5th, 6th or 7th fret.At the age of twelve, he made the decision to concentrate on learning the guitar after hearing “Boogie Chillen'” by John Lee Hooker. At eighteen Collins started his own group called the Rhythm Rockers in which he honed his craft while remaining in employment including four years working on a ranch in Normangee, Texas, followed by twelve years of driving a truck for various companies.Collins initially played an Epiphone guitar during his first two years with the Rhythm Rockers but in 1952 after seeing Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown playing a Fender Esquire he decided to purchase a Fender. Collins had wanted to buy a Telecaster but due to their cost he opted instead to buy an Esquire which he then took to the Parker Music Company in Houston to have it fitted with a genuine Telecaster neck; this would remain his main guitar up until his move to California and the guitar that he used on his earliest recordings including his signature song “Frosty”.(For the rest of his career he played a Fender Telecaster with a “Humbucker” pickup retrofitted into the neck position.) In 1954 Collins, then aged 22 and still without a record release, was joined in the Rhythm Rockers by the 17-year-old Johnny Copeland who had just left the Dukes of Rhythm (a band he had started with Houston blues musician Joe “Guitar” Hughes).
Collins started to play regularly in Houston, most notably at Shady’s Playhouse, where James “Widemouth” Brown (brother of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown) and other well-known Houston blues musicians would meet for the Blue Monday jams.By the mid 1950s he had established his reputation as a local guitarist of note and had started to appear regularly at a Fifth Ward club called Walter’s Lounge with the group Big Tiny and the Thunderbirds.The saxophonist and music teacher Henry Hayes had heard about Collins from Joe “Guitar” Hughes. After seeing him perform live, Hayes encouraged Collins to record a single for Kangaroo Records, a label he had started with his friend M. L. Young.Collins recorded his debut single “The Freeze” b/w “Collins Shuffle” for Kangaroo Records at Gold Star Studios, Houston, in the spring of 1958, with Henry Hayes on saxophone.Texas blues bands of this period incorporated a horn section, and Collins later credited Henry Hayes with teaching him how to arrange for horns.In 1964 he recorded “Frosty” at Gulf Coast Recording Studio, Beaumont, Texas, for Hall Records, owned by Bill Hall, who had signed Collins on the recommendation of Cowboy Jack Clement, a songwriter and producer who had engineered sessions for Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash at Sun Records.His debut album The Cool Sounds Of Albert Collins was released in 1965 on the TCF label and consisted of previously released instrumentals including “Thaw Out” and “Don’t Lose Your Cool”.
On 19 June 1968 the group Canned Heat were playing at the Music Hall in Houston, and a friend of theirs mentioned that Collins was playing at the Ponderosa Club, which they duly attended.After Collins had finished playing they introduced themselves and offered to help secure an agent for him as well as an introduction to Imperial Records in California.With the offer of a record deal and regular live work Collins made the decision to move, relocating at first to Kansas City in July 1968, where he played in the organ trio of keyboardist Lawrence Wright, and then in November to Palo Alto, California.Collins chose Love Can Be Found Anywhere (Even In A Guitar) from the lyrics of Canned Heat’s “Fried Hockey Boogie” as the title for his 1968 Imperial album in honor of Canned Heat and their lead singer Bob Hite, who had also provided the liner notes for the album.In the spring of 1969 he was hired by Bob Krasnow to play on the Ike and Tina Turner album The Hunter, which was released on Krasnow’s Blue Thumb label.The move to California was proving to be the right decision, with Collins establishing himself as a regular act on the West Coast circuit playing at the Fillmore West and Whisky a Go Go as well as the “Newport 69” festival in Northridge, California, in June 1969 and the Gold Rush Festival at Lake Amador, California, in October.In December 1970 his debut album The Cool Sounds Of Albert Collins was reissued as Truckin’ With Albert Collins by Blue Thumb Records.
In November 1971 the Denver label Tumbleweed, which had been newly created by Larry Ray and Bill Szymczyk, released the Collins album There’s Gotta Be A Change; it was the label’s first official release.The single “Get Your Business Straight” b/w “Frog Jumpin'” was released by Tumbleweed in February 1972.In 1973 Tumbleweed closed due to financial problems, leaving Collins without a record label.He was signed by Bruce Iglauer, owner of Alligator Records, in 1978 on the recommendation of Dick Shurman, whom Collins had met in Seattle.His first release for the label was Ice Pickin’ (1978), which was recorded at Curtom Studios, Chicago, and produced by Iglauer, Shurman and Richard McLeese. On 2 February 1978 Collins appeared in concert with the Dutch band Barrelhouse, which was his first live appearance outside of the United States. The concert was filmed for the Dutch TV show Tros Sesjun and was subsequently released on vinyl in 1979 by Munich Records as Albert Collins & Barrelhouse Live.Collins won a W. C. Handy Award in the category Best Contemporary Blues Album in 1983 for his Alligator release Don’t Lose Your Cool.
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