Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns got it right when he said the late Albert King was "probably the most influential guitar player that ever lived."
King, who died Monday at age 69 in Memphis, Tenn., after suffering a heart attack, was among the most-copied electric guitarists in history. His string-bending, razor-sharp riffs and feedback-drenched sound influenced three generations of blues and rock guitarists.
B. B. King, who is no relation, said King "was a dear friend and a great guitarist. We've lost a great talent and I will miss him." Bonnie Raitt said yesterday King's death was "a great loss. [He was] one of the last of the great bluesmen."
Without King, it's hard to imagine the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, who often took King's patented guitar lines and sped them up. Eric Clapton borrowed entire solos from the gentle giant. Jeff Beck first put his amplifier in overdrive as an approximation of King's early singles for the King label during the '50s.
Jimi Hendrix's famous recording of "Red House" is considered an homage to King.
Chicago blues guitarist Jimmy Rogers, a former member of Muddy Waters' band, said King was above all "level-headed and businesslike. He reminded me of Howlin' Wolf in that way. Blues lovers are going to miss him. I'm going to miss him just like I miss Muddy."
Born in Indianola, Miss., King fronted a jump blues band in St. Louis during the early '50s. He signed with the Stax label in 1966 and crossed over to young white fans a few years later with a series of shows at the two Fillmore Auditoriums.
King wrenched his sound from an electric guitar played upside down, as Hendrix did also.
One of the guitarist's last appearances was a Dec. 11 date at a packed Country Club in suburban Reseda, Calif. Both Robbie Robertson and Mr. Clapton were in the audience.
"He was in excellent shape and had plenty of energy," said
Robert Xeno, the club's chief sound engineer. "He played for more than two hours. The man was a wonderful human being."
King, who recorded many of his best-known numbers for Stax in the '60s, had a sense of humor. He was known to stop in the middle of performances to give a venue's sound man a good-natured scolding for adding kick drum to the club's sound mix. At the recent Reseda date, he did it again.
"He stopped the show and said he wanted to get it right because he was going to be here a long time tonight," Mr. Xeno recalled. "Wherever he is now, one thing's for sure -- there's no kick drum in the mix."