Albert King

Guitar ace Albert King played soul and blues music that influenced many of today's expert players, including Robert Cray and Eric Clapton.

King was born Albert Nelson on April 25, 1923, in Indianola, Miss. He played the guitar at a young age but first worked as a bulldozer operator and mechanic before becoming a professional musician.

In the late '40s, King gigged with an Arkansas blues band, the In the Groove Boys. The tall, almost-300-pound King then played drums for Jimmy Reed and recorded a few singles of his own, such as 1953's "Bad Luck Blues." He changed his surname to King after B.B. King — who was born in the same city — achieved success.

In 1959, King began recording with a pianist and horn section. His records became known for the sound of his signature Gibson Flying V guitar, which he named Lucy. King had an R&B hit in 1961 with "Don't Throw Your Love on Me Too Strong."

King's greatest success came in the late '60s on Stax Records in Tennessee, where he worked with some of the best Memphis musicians. In 1966, King scored a top-40 hit with "Laundromat Blues" (RealAudio excerpt). In 1967 he issued Born Under a Bad Sign, featuring Booker T. & the MG's, who played on many of his soul-laced Stax releases. That same year he had a hit with "Cross Cut Saw."

In the '70s, King scored a few minor soul hits. He also recorded an Elvis Presley tribute LP, King Does the King's Things.

King died of a heart attack Dec. 21, 1992. But his rough vocals and biting guitar left a lasting impression on many rockers, including the Eagles' Joe Walsh, who honored King with a slide-guitar take on "Amazing Grace" at his funeral.

Last year, WEA/Atlantic/Rhino issued The Very Best of Albert King, including "Personal Manager" (RealAudio excerpt), the cut that was the basis for Clapton's solo on Cream's "Strange Brew."

Other birthdays today: Jerry Leiber, 67; Stu Cook (Creedence Clearwater Revival), 55; Michael Brown (Left Banke), 51; Steven Ferrone (Average White Band), 50; Andy Bell (Erasure), 36; and Ella Fitzgerald, 1917–1996.