When it comes to the blues, there may be dozens of styles, regions and players, but there are only three kings. Albert King, B.B. King, and Freddie King weren’t related by blood, but sonically they became some of the most influential players of their time. Each had a unique playing style that has become a real inspiration for blues artists.
Standing at over 6’4,” Albert King was nicknamed “The Velvet Bulldozer,” for his large proportions. His career began in the early 1950’s, and his guitar tone and playing shaped modern electric blues. For the majority of his work Albert played a Gibson Flying V , which was often tuned to non-standard tunings such as Open F tuning, or E Minor tuning. He also was a left handed guitarist, but chose to play a right handed guitar upside down, meaning that the low strings were at the bottom. This allowed Albert to do powerful string bending in a way that was never heard before. For players taking blues guitar lessons, teachers often cover his string bending techniques and non standard guitar tunings, as they in part defined his sound. This sound inspired the likes of Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughn amongst many others.
Freddie King, or “The Texas Cannonball” as he was known, gave players a blues guitar lesson of another sort, in the Texas blues and Chicago blues style. Known for being the more creative and aggressive of the three kings, Freddie had a more intuitive style that interacted with his vocals heavily. This was the result of being an incredible singer and songwriter, as well as a guitarist. Using Gibson guitars with P-90 pickups, he introduced a new blues guitar technique with the way that he picked the strings. Freddie played with both a plastic thumb pick and a metal index finger pick, which struck the strings in more of an aggressive way and created a more unique blues guitar tone. Freddie’s out of the box techniques have inspired guitarists all over the world.
Perhaps the most recognized of the three kings is B.B. King, who even in his mid eighties still performs. Ranked #3 on Rolling Stone’s list of “100 greatest guitarists of all time,” B.B. has a style that is instantly recognizable to anyone who listens to the blues. B.B.’s music features his low, raspy voice singing short soulful lines, spaced between the thick, rich guitar tone heard with his blues guitar soloing. His playing seems to always include fast yet smooth vibrato, and slow string bending. B.B.’s performances continue to give players a guitar lesson in how to distinguish one’s sound with subtleties in the guitar playing.
The three kings came out of different areas and pioneered different guitar techniques, but were united in the enormity of their influence on musicians everywhere. Even guitarists from completely different styles of music learn guitar techniques of the three kings.
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