Obituary: Albert Collins

Albert Collins, guitarist: born Leona, Texas 1 October 1932; married; died Las Vegas 24 November 1993.

ALBERT COLLINS, the blues guitarist, defied convention to the end, since instead of the traditional death in poverty-stricken obscurity, the last years of his life were distinguished by industry recognition including a Grammy in 1986 for his collaboration on the album Showdown with Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland, and a WC Handy award as male blues artist of the year in 1989, with Showdown being voted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Collins was highly regarded by his peers. Jimi Hendrix dedicated a song to him, and acknowledged him as a primary influence. BB King, who advised the young Collins to 'find your own sound - that'll help you through the world', visited Collins on his deathbed.

Collins certainly took King's advice. His incisive, razor-sharp sound has been described as like 'cables snapping on the Golden Gate Bridge', and he was influenced as much by jazz and funk as by the Texas bluesmen among whom he grew up, such as his uncle, the gospel musician The Rev Campbell Collins, and his cousins Lightnin' Hopkins and Willow Young, who gave him an acoustic guitar when he was 18, tuned to the D-minor open chord which became his hallmark.

Till then, Collins had been trying to play piano in the style he heard in church, but as he recalled later, 'As soon as he gave me that guitar and showed me a few chords, man, I forgot about piano.' The first tune he learnt to play was John Lee Hooker's 'Boogie Chillun', a foundation that could still be heard in his playing, 40 years later.

Born in Leona, Texas, in 1932, but spending much of his childhood in Houston, Collins was influenced by the big bands which rode on the back of the oil boomtown's prosperity. Like many of his generation, Collins' musical aspirations were ahead of the available technology. Collins had already been running an eight-piece band for two years in Houston before the right technology came along, in the form of a Fender Esquire electric guitar, beginning a lifelong love affair with the instrument that caused him to be described as 'The Master of the Telecaster'.

He had his first rhythm-and-blues hit in 1958 with an instrumental, 'The Freeze', released on the Kangaroo label, owned by the Houston alto player Henry Hayes, which caught the fancy of the fans with its fierce high-register melodic lines, with the sustain turned right up. This was to be followed by a number along similar sub-Arctic lines including: 'Defrost' (1960), 'Frosty' and 'Sno-Cone' (1962), 'Ice Pickin' ' (1978), 'Frostbite' (1980), 'Don't Lose Your Cool' (1983). He twice won the WC Handy Award for the best blues album of the year, Ice Pickin' in the mid-Eighties, and the Grammy-nominated Cold Snap (1986).

Collins first met Jimi Hendrix at the time of his first hit, when the latter was playing in Little Richard's backing band, and he took Hendrix's place when he left Richard to join the Drifters. After his time with Little Richard, Collins moved to Kansas City, where he was exposed to the influence of more jazz musicians, like the organist Jimmy McGriff, of whom he said, 'I always wanted to be an organ player. I think when I comp my chords (play responses to other musicians) it's like playing an organ.' He also heard the innovative guitarist Wes Montgomery whose octave playing added to his influences.

Though he was taken up by rock stars like Gary Moore and Eric Clapton in later years, perhaps his 'golden age' was the time he spent on the West Coast at the end of the Sixties at the suggestion of Bob Hite of Canned Heat, who got him a contract with Imperial Records, of Los Angeles, producing three blistering albums which are still available as a double CD, The Complete Imperial Recordings. His six albums for Alligator were also noteworthy. It was during his time in Los Angeles that he acquired the blond '61 Telecaster with humbucking pickups which he used right up to the end.

Though Albert Collins influenced several generations of rock guitarists, none of them could come close to copying his sound. He was an original, a moderniser with roots.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate