The Late Movies: The Three Kings

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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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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iStock
A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo
iStock
iStock

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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