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Albert King/Stevie Ray Vaughan: Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan

There was no more formidable, ferocious, and just plain ornery blues guitarist ever than the late, great Albert King. As rock guitar icon Joe Walsh once put it: “There are a lot of hot guitar players out there today who can fly all over the fretboard in all kinds of amazing ways, like Eddie Van Halen. But Albert King could blow Eddie Van Halen off the stage…with his amp on standby!” Or as the late blues-rock god Stevie Ray Vaughan said: “Albert is so nasty!”

Back in December of 1983, Albert and his protege Stevie Ray got together in Ontario, Canada, for a taping of the syndicated television show In Session, which paired musicians who were stylistically related but seldom had an opportunity to perform together. The recent discovery and release of the tapes from that show (In Session, Stax 7501-2; 63:53) represents a treasure trove of bent-string euphoria for blues guitar fanatics. At the time of this taping, Stevie Ray’s career was on a meteoric upswing. He had just solidified his reputation as the baddest guitar slinger in Texas with a special guest spot on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance (on which he summoned up his best Albert King impression for those groove-heavy dance tracks) and with his own highly successful Epic debut, Texas Flood.

The 60-year-old King rules this session like a benevolent father figure and Vaughan, rightly, defers to his bluespower. The program, with the exception of Stevie Ray’s raunchy shuffle “Pride and Joy,” is Albert’s typical live set. Forget about the opener, “They Call It Stormy Monday.” Albert, as was often his custom, is hideously out of tune here, which becomes all the more apparent when he tries comping behind Stevie Ray’s solo. In terms of single notes, however, there was no such thing as being out of tune with Albert. If a note came up a little flat, he’d just bend it up to pitch by ear. In his powerful hands, the guitar became a non-tempered instrument. The session picks up steam with a rousing rendition of B.B. King’s “Ask Me No Questions.” What’s interesting here is to see how Albert responds to Stevie’s own considerable chops. A proud behemoth of a man, he simply would not be dusted in a face-off with anyone. And the more SRV digs in, the nastier Albert seems to get. Neither one backs down and ultimately, Albert’s jaw-dropping string-bending prowess gets the nod…like one of Big George Foreman’s roundhouse rights that finally connects squarely on the chin of his able opponent. On Albert’s ultra-slow “Blues at Sunrise,” Stevie Ray takes a quicksilver Jimi Hendrix approach. And on the organ-fueled instrumental shuffle “Overall Junction,” SRV solos first and soars into the stratosphere, only to be slapped back down by Albert’s relentless attack, which builds momentum to a vicious level. An added bonus for this dream session is the candid bits of between-songs banter with the father and the son.

Originally Published