Albert Collins (October 1, 1932 – November 24, 1993) was an American electric blues guitarist and singer (and occasional harmonica player) whose recording career began in the 1960s in Houston and whose fame eventually took him to stages across North America, Europe, Japan and Australia. He had many nicknames, such as "The Ice Man", "The Master of the Telecaster" and "The Razor Blade".
Born in Leona, Texas, Collins was a distant relative of Lightnin' Hopkins and grew up learning about music and playing guitar. His family moved to Houston, Texas when he was seven. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, he absorbed the blues sounds and styles from Texas, Mississippi and Chicago. His style would soon envelop these sounds. He regularly named John Lee Hooker and organist Jimmy McGriff, along with Hopkins, Guitar Slim and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown as major influences on his playing.
He formed his first band in 1952 and two years later was the headliner at several blues clubs in Houston. By the late 1950s Collins began using Fender Telecasters. He later chose a "maple-cap" 1966 Custom Fender Telecaster with a Gibson PAF humbucker in the neck position and a 100 watt RMS silverfaced 1970s Fender Quad Reverb combo as his main equipment, and developed a unique sound featuring minor tunings, sustained notes and an "attack" fingerstyle. He also frequently used a capo on his guitar, particularly on the 5th, 7th, and 9th frets. He primarily favored an "open F-minor" tuning (low to high: F-C-F-Ab-C-F). In the booklet from the CD Ice Pickin, it was stated that Albert tuned to a "D minor D-A-D-F-A-D" Tuning. He played without a pick, using his thumb and first finger. Collins credited his unusual tuning to his cousin, Willow Young, who taught it to him.
Collins began recording in 1958 and released singles, including many instrumentals such as the million selling "Frosty" (1962), on Texas-based labels such as Kangaroo and Hall-Way. A number of these singles were collected on the album The Cool Sounds Of Albert Collins on the TCF Hall label (later reissued on the Blue Thumb label as Truckin’ With Albert Collins.) In the spring of 1965 he moved to Kansas City, Missouri and made a name for himself there. This was also where he met his future wife, Gwendolyn.
Many of Kansas City's recording studios had closed by the mid-1960s. Unable to record, Collins moved to California in 1967. He lived in Palo Alto, California for a short time before moving to Los Angeles and played many of the West Coast venues popular with the counter-culture. In early 1969 after playing a concert with Canned Heat, members of this band introduced him to Liberty Records. In appreciation, Collins' first album title, Love Can Be Found Anywhere, was taken from the lyrics of "Fried Hockey Boogie". Collins signed and released his first album on Imperial Records, a sister label, in 1968.
Collins remained in California for another five years, and was popular on double-billed shows at The Fillmore and the Winterland. He was signed to Alligator Records in 1977 and recorded and released Ice Pickin'. He would record seven more albums with the label, before being signed to Point Blank Records in 1990.
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Collins toured the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan. He was becoming a popular blues musician and was an influence for Coco Montoya, Robert Cray, Gary Moore, Debbie Davies, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jonny Lang, Susan Tedeschi, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, John Mayer and Frank Zappa.
In 1983 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. In 1987, he shared a Grammy for the album Showdown! (released in 1986) which he recorded with Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland. The following year his solo release Cold Snap was also nominated for a Grammy. In 1987, John Zorn enlisted him to play lead guitar in a suite he had composed especially for him, entitled "Two-Lane Highway," on Zorn's album Spillane .
Alongside George Thorogood and the Destroyers and Bo Diddley, Collins performed at Live Aid in 1985, playing "The Sky Is Crying" and "Madison Blues", at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. He was the only black blues artist to appear.
In 1986 Collins filmed a live concert from the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles with Etta James and Joe Walsh. 'Jazzvisions: Jump The Blues Away'. Backing musicians consisted of many top-flight players from LA: Rick Rosas (bass); Michael Huey (drums); Ed Sanford (B3); Kip Noble (piano); Josh Sklar (guitar).
In 1987, Collins made a cameo appearance in the film Adventures in Babysitting, he insisted to Elisabeth Shue that "nobody leaves this place without singin' the blues", forcing the children to improvise a song before escaping.
Collins was invited to play at the 'Legends Of Guitar Festival' concerts in Seville, Spain at the Expo in 1992, where amongst others, he played "Iceman", the title track from his final studio album.
He made his last visit to London, England in March 1993.
Death and legacy
After falling ill at a show in Switzerland in late July 1993, he was diagnosed in mid August with lung cancer which had metastasized to his liver, with an expected survival time of four months. Parts of his last album, Live '92/'93, were recorded at shows that September; he died shortly afterwards, in November at the age of 61. He was survived by his wife, Gwendolyn. He is interred at the Davis Memorial Park, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Collins is remembered not only for the quantity of quality blues that he put out throughout his career that has inspired so many other blues musicians, but also for his live performances, where he would frequently come down from the stage, attached to his amplifier with a 100 foot cord, and mingle with the audience whilst still playing. He was known to leave clubs while still playing, and continue to play outside on the sidewalk, even boarding a city bus in Chicago while playing, outside of a club called Biddy Mulligan’s (the bus driver stayed at the bus stop until Collins got off).
Collins has influenced many artists and collaborated with Ronnie Wood, Jimmy Page, Robert Cray, Keith Richards, Johnny Nitro, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gary Moore, B.B. King, Larry Carlton and Eric Clapton.
He is also remembered for his humorous stage presence, which was recounted in the film documentary, Antones: Austin's Home of the Blues. Collins got into a long solo one night at Antone's, then left the building, still plugged in and playing. Several minutes after Collins returned to the stage, a pizza delivery man came in and gave Collins the pizza he had just ordered while outside the building.
- 1965: The Cool Sounds of Albert Collins (TCF Hall 8002) (collection of early singles)
- 1968: Love Can Be Found Anywhere (Even In A Guitar) (Imperial LP-12428)
- 1969: Trash Talkin' (Imperial LP-12438)
- 1970: The Complete Albert Collins (Imperial LP-12449)
- 1971: There's Gotta Be A Change (Tumbleweed 103) - Billboard 200 #196
- 1978: Ice Pickin' (Alligator 4713)
- 1980: Frostbite (Alligator 4719)
- 1983: Don't Lose Your Cool (Alligator 4730)
- 1986: Cold Snap (Alligator 4752)
- 1991: Iceman (Pointblank VPBCD 3)
- 1983: Jammin With Albert - with Rory Gallagher
- 1985: Showdown! (Alligator 4743) - with Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland - Billboard 200 #124
- 1969 "Alive and Cool" (recorded live at the Fillmore West)
- 1979: Albert Collins and Barrelhouse Live (Het Wapen van Heemskerk, Alkmaar, Holland, December 28, 1978, Munich Records 225)
- 1981: Frozen Alive (Alligator 4725)
- 1984: Live In Japan (Alligator 4733)
- 1986: Jazzvisions: Jump the Blues Away
- 1989: "Albert Collins live" (at het wapen van heemskerk, Alkmaar, Holland 1978) BJ-101
- 1992: Albert Collins: Live At Montreux 1992 (Eagle Records)
- 1995: Live '92/'93 (Pointblank 40658) - Top Blues Albums #5
- 2005 The Iceman at Mount Fuji (Fuel 2000)
- 2008: Cold Tremors (Red Lightnin' 250186)
- 1969: Truckin' With Albert Collins (Blue Thumb BTS-8) - re-release of The Cool Sounds of Albert Collins
- 1993: Collins Mix: His Best (Pointblank 39097)
- 1997: Deluxe Edition (Alligator 5601) – collection of tracks from each of his Alligator albums.
- Gary Moore - Still Got the Blues, After Hours and Blues Alive
- David Bowie - "Underground" and Labyrinth
- Jack Bruce - A Question of Time
- John Mayall - Wake Up Call
- B. B. King - Blues Summit
- Robert Cray - Shame and a Sin
- Branford Marsalis - Super Models in Deep Conversation
- John Lee Hooker - Mr Lucky
- John Zorn - Spillane
- Buckshot LeFonque - Buckshot LeFonque
- "Freeze" / "Collins' Shuffle" (Kangaroo KA-103/104)
- "Lonely Heart" / "True Love" (Great Scott 1008) (Note: this single may be unreleased)
- "Soulroad" / "I Don't Know" (Tracie 2003)
- "Defrost" / "Albert's Alley" (Great Scott 0007/Hall-Way 1795)
- "Sippin' Soda" / "Homesick" (Hall-Way 1831)
- "Frosty" / "Tremble" (Hall 1920)
- "Thaw-out" / "Backstroke" (Hall 1925)
- "Sno-Cone Part I" / "Sno-Cone Part II" (TCF Hall 104)
- "Dyin' Flu" / "Hot 'n Cold" (TCF Hall 116)
- "Don't Lose Your Cool" / "Frostbite" (TCF Hall 127)
- "Cookin' Catfish" / "Taking my Time" (20th Century 45-6708)
- "Ain't Got Time" / "Got a Good Thing Goin'" (Imperial 66351)
- "Do the Sissy" / "Turnin' On" (Imperial 66391)
- "Conversation with Collins" / "And Then it Started Raining" (Imperial 66412)
- "Coon 'n Collards" / "Do What You Want to Do" (Liberty 56184)
- "Get Your Business Straight" / "Frog Jumpin'" (Tumbleweed 1002) - 1972 - Black Singles #46
- "Eight Days on the Road" / "Stickin'" (Tumbleweed 1007)
- "Blues for Stevie" / "Guitars that Rule the World" (1994)
- 2003 The Iceman at Mount Fuji (Varese 061299)
- 2003 In Concert: One Filter (Music Video Distributors 6526)
- 2005 Albert Collins: Warner Bros. Classics (Warner Brothers 9086390)
- 2008 Albert Collins: Live At Montreux 1992 (Eagle Rock Entertainment B0012IWNYU)
- 1987 Adventures in Babysitting (as himself). He played and sang back-up on "Babysitting Blues."
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