The Late Movies: The Three Kings

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The "Three Kings of the Blues Guitar" are Albert, B.B. and Freddie King (no relation). The three of them are among the greatest bluesmen and most influential guitarists of the late 20th century and are veritable American institutions (just as, if not more, important than barbecue and baseball). For each of the Kings, we've got three performance videos and a guitar lesson.

Albert King

Nicknamed "The Velvet Bulldozer," Albert King stood 6' 4" and weighed in at 250 lbs. He played his Gibson Flying V ("Lucy") left-handed, upside-down and backwards. In 1966, he signed with the Stax record label and began recording with Booker T. & the MGs. A year later, he released Born Under a Bad Sign, the title track of which would become his best known song. He continued to record (working with Isaac Hayes' backing band, The Movement, during the 70s) and tour for the next few decades and was planning an overseas tour when he died of a heart attack in 1992.

Born Under A Bad Sign

Albert's most well known song, from a 1981 concert.

Why Are You So Mean to Me

Live with John Mayall & The Original Bluesbreakers 1982.

Don't Lie To me

Live with Stevie Ray Vaughn in 1983.

The Albert King Box

Here's a lesson from riffeo.com on playing in the "Albert King box," an area of the fret board where Albert tended to improvise during solos.

B.B. King

B.B. (a nickname, shortened from "Beale Street Blues Boy") King has been called "worldwide ambassador for the blues" by the Blues Foundation and the 3rd greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone. He began his musical career after meeting T-Bone Walker, saying that after that, "I knew I'd have to have [an electric guitar] myself. Had to have one, short of stealing!" His version of Rick Darnell and Roy Hawkins' song "The Thrill Is Gone," released on 1969's Completely Well, became his biggest hit (#3 on the R&B chart and #15 on the Pop chart) earned him a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal and became his signature song. For a large part of his career, B.B. performed some 300 concerts a year. In 2006, the year he turned 80, he launched his "farewell tour" and gave some thought to retiring. This spring, he's touring North and South America again adding to the 15,000+ concerts he's performed in his career.

The Thrill Is Gone

B.B.'s signature song, live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1993.

Sinner's Prayer

Live with Billy Preston on organ and Bruce Willis on harmonica at a tribute to Ray Charles.

Key to the Highway

A little less guitar playing here, and a little more acting like somebody's grandfather telling a story.

B.B.'s guitar tips

A guitar lesson from the man himself done in something of a Q+A format.

Freddie King

Freddie King, nicknamed "The Texas Cannonball," forged his own finger-picked (a plastic thumb pick and a metal index-finger pick, a technique he picked up from Jimmy Rogers) style of playing based on the Texas- and Chicago-style blues he heard growing up. While maybe not as well-known as the other Kings, Freddie was no less influential on the next generation of blues guitarist and has been cited as an inspiration by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Peter Green. Freddie King died from heart failure in 1976 at the age of forty two.

Ain`t No Sunshine When She`s Gone

Performing Bill Withers' 1971 hit, which Withers recorded while he was still working a day job at a factory that made toilet seats for 747s.

Sweet Home Chicago/Let the Good Times Roll

This footage comes from a 13 minute video shot and edited by Ric Sternberg (part of the video crew at Woodstock) in the 1976. According to Ric, Freddie was in Austin, TX to play a show and the Jail Arts & Education Project got a hold of him and asked him to come down and play for the inmates at the Travis Co. Jail. Freddie agreed, and it appears everyone had a pretty good time.

Whole Lotta Lovin'

Live in LA in 1970.

Freddie King Guitar Lesson

Andy Aledort from Truefire Guitar Lessons (who kind of talks like a guy I took lessons from in high school), give some tips on the basics of Freddie's style, including pick attack, equipment and a few licks.

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February 5, 2010 - 5:00pm
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