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Albert Collins 11/1993

Albert CollinsNov 24, 1993 – Albert Collins was born on October 1, 1932  in Leona Texas. The blues guitar came to him through his cousin Lightnin’ Hopkins, who lived in the same town and often played on family gatherings. Although initially a student of piano, he became the bluesmaster who played an altered tuning. Collins tuned his guitar to an open F minor chord (FCFAbCF), 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.

In the early days Collins worked as a paint mixer and truck driver to make ends meet. In 1971, when he was 39 years old, Collins worked in construction, since he couldn’t make a proper living from his music. One of the construction jobs he worked on was a remodeling job for Neil Diamond. This type of work carried on right up until the late 1970s. It was his wife Gwen that talked him into returning to music.

Over the period of his career  he received accolades and many nicknames, such as “The Ice Man”, “The Master of the Telecaster” and “The Razor Blade”.

He began recording in 1960 and released singles, including many instrumentals such as the million selling “Frosty”. In the spring of 1965 he moved to Kansas City, Missouri and started to make a name for himself. It would however take to the 1980s when his genius talent was acknowledged by the music world. In 1983, when he won the W. C. Handy Award for his album Don’t Lose Your Cool, which won the award for best blues album of the year.

On 13 July 1985 Collins performed with George Thorogood and the Destroyers at Live Aid, appearing as guest soloist on “Madison Blues”; the US part of the charity concert was held at the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and together with the simultaneously broadcast concerts from other countries was viewed by over 1.5 billion people. In December 1986 Collins appeared in concert with Etta James and Joe Walsh at the Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles, which was subsequently released on video under the title Jazzvisions: Jump The Blues Away. The backing musicians for the concert were Rick Rosas (bass), Michael Huey (drums), Ed Sanford (Hammond B3), Kip Noble (piano) and Josh Sklar (guitar). In 1986 Collins won a Grammy Award with Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland for their album Showdown! Collins had finished working on his seventh Alligator album Cold Snap by October 1986, which was released shortly afterwards to good reviews and received a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Recording of 1987. Collins cited the album as personally important to him due to the involvement of organist Jimmy McGriff, an early musical idol whom Collins had played with in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1966.

On 12 February 1987 he appeared as a musical guest on the NBC talk show Late Night with David Letterman. Collins made a cameo appearance in the 1987 comedy film Adventures in Babysitting. In 1987 the American composer John Zorn and Albert Collins collaborated on a suite entitled “Two-Lane Highway” which was subsequently released on the Zorn album Spillane. On 22 April 1988 Collins appeared at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in a group that consisted of B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan; the group played on the Riverboat President as it journeyed along the Mississippi River in recognition of the musical heritage of New Orleans and artists such as Fate Marable, Louis Armstrong and Henry Red Allen, who had entertained passengers on the fleet of riverboats owned by the Streckfus Brothers.

Collins was signed to Pointblank Records, a subsidiary of Virgin Records, in 1991. Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records expressed his disappointment at the departure of Collins while acknowledging that he had signed Collins on a “record to record” basis. On 15 November 1991 Collins performed with Robert Cray, Steve Cropper and Dave Edmunds at the Guitar Legends event in Seville; a series of five concerts to promote the upcoming Seville Expo ’92. On 28 October 1991 Collins was filmed in concert for the music show Austin City Limits which was broadcast on 21 February 1992; the concert was released on DVD in April 2008 as Albert Collins Live From Austin, TX. In 1993 Collins played at the Pointblank Borderline Blues Festival in London, which ran from 17 March to 27 March; this would be his last appearance in the UK. Collins was performing at the Paléo Festival in Nyon, Switzerland, in July 1993 when he was taken ill. He was diagnosed in mid August with lung cancer which had metastasized to his liver, with an expected survival time of four months. Tracks from his last album Live ’92/’93 were recorded at shows that September.

Albert Collins died on 24 November 1993 at the age of 61. He was interred at Davis Memorial Park, Las Vegas, Nevada. There was a posthumous nomination for his final album Live ’92/’93 at the 38th Grammy Awards of 1996 in the category of Best Blues Contemporary Album.

The Fender Custom Shop created an accurate replica of the “Ice Man”‘s namesake ’66 Custom Telecaster in 1990, which featured a double-bound swamp ash body, a custom-shaped maple neck sporting a separate laminated maple fingerboard with 21 vintage frets, a custom-wound Seymour Duncan ’59 humbucker in the neck position and a Fender Texas Special Tele single-coil in the bridge.

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