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King, Albert

original name Albert Nelson

(born April 25, 1923, Indianola, Miss., U.S.—died Dec. 21, 1992, Memphis, Tenn.) American blues musician who created a unique string-bending guitar style that influenced three generations of musicians.

He was one of 13 children born to an itinerant Mississippi preacher and his wife. When he was eight years old, his widowed mother moved the family to eastern Arkansas, where he worked as a farmhand on a cotton plantation and later as a bulldozer operator. He was left-handed but he taught himself how to play a right-handed guitar upside down by pulling the strings down.

In the early 1950s King moved to Gary, Ind., joined the Chicago-based music scene, and made his first recording, “Bad Luck Blues,” (1953) for the Parrot label. He performed in St. Louis, Mo., from 1956 before joining Stax Records in Memphis, where he released such albums as Born Under a Bad Sign (1967) and Live Wire/Blues Power (1968). His blend of simple, declamatory vocals with the distinctive wailing of his trademark Gibson Flying V guitar, “Lucy,” were widely imitated by such performers as Jimi Hendrix, Joe Walsh, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Eric Clapton. King toured extensively and made an acclaimed appearance at the Montreux, Switz., Rock/Blues Festival in 1975. He reemerged in the 1980s, capturing a new generation of fans with the albums San Francisco '83 (1983), Laundromat Blues (1984), and I'm in a Phone Booth, Baby (1984).

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