Albert Collins was one of the truly great bluesmen. From the early days of his career, in 1952, through to his death 41 years later, he became so associated with his chosen guitar – the Fender Telecaster – that he was frequently known as the Master of the Telecaster.
He was 61 years old at the time of his death. He had been diagnosed in August of 1993 with lung cancer, and the prognosis was not good. The cancer had already metastasized at the time it was detected, and he was given four months to live. Collins’ last recordings date from September of that year, with portions of Live ’92/’93 recorded at his last concerts.
One of the three “Kings of the Blues” (along with B.B. King and Freddie King, none of whom were related to each other), Albert King was massively influential in his scene, especially among his labelmates at Stax Records in the Sixties, but largely eluded commercial success. His greatest hit on the pop charts, 1968’s “Cold Feet”, only reached up to #67. However, he performed considerably better on the R&B charts, with a dozen top one hundred songs across twenty years and his album sales were usually stronger than his singles.
King died of a heart attack at his home in Memphis, Tennessee. “The Velvet Bulldozer” was 69 years old. At his funeral, B.B. King said of Albert that “he was my brother, not in blood, but in blues.”
One of the all time guitar greats, Stevie Ray Vaughan began his career working with smaller bands, but grew to such popularity and renown that he was soon able to front his own band, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble.
On the night of August 26, 1990, Vaughan played at a concert in East Troy, Wisconsin. The event was a sellout, and Vaughan’s loyal fans were treated to an encore guitar jam featuring Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan and of course, Stevie himself.
But shortly thereafter, Vaughan was involved in a helicopter crash that claimed his life. He was only 35 years old, and his death inspired a large number of musical tributes. He would have liked that.
The youngest of the “Three Kings” of blues music (along with B.B.King and Albert King), Freddie King was born in Texas in 1934. He was a professional musician for most of his life, releasing 14 studio albums from 1961 to 1975. His best known singles were “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” in 1960, and “Hide Away” in 1961 (a Top 40 hit for him).
He was a hard working man, almost constantly on tour and frequently playing more than 300 times a year. In 1976 he developed stomach ulcers, and later pancreatitis, as a result of his busy schedule and frequent alcohol use. He was only 42 when he died from these later that same year.
Widely acclaimed as the greatest guitar player of all time, Jimi Hendrix was only 27 years old when he died. He had released only 4 albums before his death, but he was already one of the iconic figures of the Sixties. He popularised the use of the Fender Stratocaster, the guitar on which he played, and he played some of the greatest live sets of all time at Woodstock and Monterey.
Although occasional allegations of murder or suicide have been made, it seems most probably that Hendrix’ death was a tragic accident. He asphyxiated on his own vomit after taking a combination of an overdose of sleeping pills (Hendrix was unfamiliar with the brand and it was stronger than he likely realised) and red wine. He died in London, but his body was returned to his native Seattle for burial.
Eddie Jones – better known to most as “Guitar Slim” – was only 32 when he died pf pneumonia (which was brought on largely by his alcoholism). In his brief career, he recorded two bona fide classics: 1952’s “Feelin’ Sad” (later covered and made more famous by Ray Charles) and 1953’s “The Things That I Used To Do” (a #1 hit on the US R&B charts).
A bluesman, Slim was part of the New Orleans Blues sound, although also something of an experimentalist – he was among the first to use distorted guitar tones, a decade before Hendrix would make them famous. Indeed, Hendrix was influenced by Slim’s work, to the point that he recorded a cover of “The Things That I Used To Do” in 1969. (Other artists to cover that particular track include James Brown and Stevie Ray Vaughan.)