The justifiably nicknamed “Master Of The Telecaster” was one of the great blues guitarists of all time. By the time of his death in 1994, at age 61, he had exerted a major influence on players such as Jimi Hendrix, Robben Ford, Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds, Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Grissom, and Robert Cray. And his legacy continues via younger devotees like Jonny Lang.
In the late 1950s and early ’60s, Collins cut singles on small Texas labels (mostly instrumentals) that would later comprise his debut LP, The Cool Sound Of Albert Collins – exhibiting the biting tone he got from picking with his bare fingers and capoing far up the neck of his minor-tuned Tele. Although he reached his widest audience thanks to his association with Alligator Records, beginning in the late ’70s, there was a samey-ness to the albums – none of which rivaled the Cool Sound blueprint let alone his incendiary live shows.
Collins wasn’t the greatest singer and his originals often relied on blues-funk grooves, as evidenced by the first two songs of this collection, which feature almost identical backgrounds. The live collection is available on CD (entirely recorded in 1992) and DVD (featuring four bonus cuts from an earlier Montreux appearance, in ’79). Do yourself a favor and opt for the DVD. The ’92 set is solid, and the camera work offers a close-up glimpse at his unorthodox technique, but the ’79 show is gutsier, more fierce.
Both years close strong with his classic “Frosty.” On the ’79 version, Collins is joined by Gatemouth Brown. It’s far from a super-jam, with things bogging down while Brown tries to get plugged in and tuned up as the band vamps. Ultimately the mentor’s thin tone is no match for disciple Collins’ sonic blasts – but, then, few could go toe-to-toe with Collins and come out ahead.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jun. ’08 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.