Album Review: Albert King - Live Wire/Blues Power (1968)

By Sergio Ariza

The Velvet Bulldozer Live

Beyond his 1961 single Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong,
Albert King's career saw no real popular success until he signed to Stax in the mid-60s and began releasing classic after classic, accompanied by Booker T & The MG's. In August 1967 Born Under A Bad Sign appeared, an album on which a number of his biggest hits were compiled, historical songs like the title track, Crosscut Saw, Oh, Pretty Woman, The Hunter and As the Years Go Passing By, songs that made the left-hander the most admired blues guitarist among white audiences, beyond the other king of blues, B.B. King.


This album, Live Wire/Blues Power, sees the gigantic (in every way) left-handed guitarist at the peak of his career, having left behind the fleabag hangouts of the Chitlin' Circuit and playing what would become his new home, the Fillmore West (King is possibly the bluesman who played there the most) before a new and totally dedicated audience. Recorded in June 1968, when King was 45 years old, it is easy to see the enormous impression he left on all the lguitarists to come, from
Clapton and Hendrix, to the man who may be his most devoted student, Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The album is stingy in terms of songs, with only six - but a torrent of emotions, opening with a blues and funky version of the classic Herbie Hancock Watermelon Man. This is followed by the best known theme of the album, the song that gives it its title - 10 minutes in which King begins talking about the blues with the audience until he unleashes himself with one of the most expressive solos in history. His influence on Vaughan here is evident, although King's style is one of the most personal in the world, playing his beloved Flying V with his left hand but with the strings strung for a right hander.


Of course, the emotional heart of the album may come with the eight minutes of Blues At Sunrise, the epitome of simmering blues, with King putting his heart into every note, and then falling in love with his singing, with that soft voice that contrasts with his huge ‘reinforced concrete frame’ - not for nothing did they call him The Velvet Bulldozer. Look Out closes the album in style with King showing off again on the six-strings, demonstrating why the San Francisco hippie scene had made him its favorite bluesman.

Recorded at the time of King's splendor, Live Wire/Blues Power is the live equivalent of what Born Under A Bad Sign is among his studio records, the zenith of one of the most important blues careers of the second half of the twentieth century. Do not hesitate, if you are looking for the perfect album to listen to some of the best solos of his career, brilliant, clear, full of power and character, this is your album.