Albert Collins

Albert Collins, “The Master of the Telecaster”, “The Iceman” and “The Razor Blade”, was cut short by a bout of liver cancer. He died on November 24, 1993. He was only 61 years old. Like John Campbell, Collins was just 61 years old. His deal with Virgin Records’ Pointblank subsidiary gave him a wider global following. Collins, however, was not like Campbell. He had been performing for many years in relative anonymity before finally gaining a following in mid-’80s. Collins was born in Leona, Texas, October 1, 1932. When he was seven years old, his family moved to Houston. Collins began keyboard lessons when he was a child in Houston’s Third Ward. He grew up with Johnny “Guitar”, Watson, and Johnny “Clyde,” Copeland. When he was a teenager, Jimmy McGriff, a Hammond B-3 organist, was his idol. He switched to guitar at 18 and began hanging out in Houston nightclubs listening to his idols, Clarence “Gatemouth”, John Lee Hooker and Lightnin’ Hopkins (his cousin). Collins started performing in these clubs by the mid-’50s. He began to develop his own style by using minor tunings and a capo. He also began his “guitar walks” through audience at this time, which made Collins wildly popular among the younger white audiences that he played for many years later in 1980s. The Rhythm Rockers were his ten-piece band. He also recorded his first single for Houston’s Kangaroo label “The Freeze” in 1958. This single was followed by several instrumental singles featuring catchy titles like “Sno-Cone,” Icy Blue, and “Don’t Lose Your Cool.” Collins gained a large regional following with all of these singles. He recorded “De-Frost” with “Albert’s Alley” at Hall-Way Records in Beaumont, TX. In 1962, “Frosty”, a million-selling song, made it big. Johnny Winter and Janis Joplin, both Beaumont-raised teens, were present when he recorded the song. Collins claims that Joplin correctly predicted the success of the single. The song quickly became a part of his repertoire and is still a part of his live shows over 30 years later in the mid-’80s. Collins’ percussive, ringing style of playing the guitar became his signature. He would pluck the strings with his right hand. In every interview he did, Jimi Hendrix mentioned Collins as an influence. Collins worked part-time and did short tours in the region. Other small Texas labels included Great Scott, Brylen, and TFC. Bob “The Bear”, a member of the blues-rock band Canned Heat, took an interest in the guitarist’s songs and traveled to Houston to see him perform live. Hite brought Collins to California and signed him to Imperial Records. In 1968 and 1969, the revival of the 1960s blues was still happening. Collins received more exposure, opening doors for bands like the Allman Brothers at Fillmore West in San Francisco. Collins’ operations were based in Los Angeles for many years before he moved to Las Vegas in late ’80s. Before moving to Tumbleweed Records, Collins recorded three albums on the Imperial label. Joe Walsh produced several singles for the label, which was owned by Bill Szymczyk, the Eagles producer. In 1973, the label was closed. He didn’t record much in the 1970s or into the ’80s but he had enough airplay to continue touring the U.S., so he drove his bus from gig to gig, until 1988 when he and his backing bands were able to hire a driver. Collins’ breakthrough came in 1977 when he was signed by Chicago-based Alligator Records. He released Ice Pickin’, his debut album for the label. Six more albums were recorded by Collins for the label. The culmination of his career was 1986’s Cold Snap on which Jimmy McGriff plays. Collins discovered that he was able to sing well at Alligator Records. He co-wrote many classic songs with Gwen, along with “Mastercharge” and “Conversation with Collins.” Other Alligator albums include Live in Japan and Don’t Lose Your Cool. Frostbite. Showdown!, an album that he recorded in 1985 with Johnny “Clyde”, Copeland and Robert Cray. All three of them received a Grammy Award. Cold Snap, which was released in 1986, was nominated to a Grammy Award. Iceman Collins signed in 1989 with Pointblank, a subsidiary of the major label Virgin Records. His debut album, Iceman was released in 1991. Collins Mix was released by the label in 1993. Other compact-disc reissues were made by other record labels who saw Collins’ popularity on the festival circuit and in theaters. These include Complete Imperial Recordings (1991) on EMI Records and Truckin’ with Albert Collins (1992), both on MCA Records. Collins’ sessionography is extensive as well. He has performed on many albums, including David Bowie’s Labyrinth and John Zorn’s Spillane. Jack Bruce’s A Question of Time and John Mayall’s Wake Up Call. King’s Blues Summit and Robert Cray’s Shame and a sin as well as Branford Marsalis’ Super Models In Deep Conversation are among the albums he performs on. Collins was aware that the blues were returning stronger after he had spent too much time in 1970s without recording. However, he could feel the interest in Stevie Ray Vaughan’s music at an all-time high in the mid-80s. Collins was a media star in his final years. He made several appearances in concert at Carnegie Hall, as well as on Late Night with David Letterman and in a Seagram’s Wine Cooler ad with Bruce Willis. Vaughan, Collins and the Fabulous Thunderbirds brought about the blues revival in the mid-1980s. It has continued to the mid-1990s. Collins was unfortunately unable to participate in the continuing evolution of the music. Allmusic

Leave a Comment