They say the blues is nothing but three notes and the truth.
You could just as well claim it isn’t nothin’ but three Kings with a guitar.
In the Rolling Stone list of 100 Greatest Guitarists the three Wisemen of the Blues feature very near the top. They each influenced hundreds of others, played each others songs, shared the stage from time to time and considered themselves and are considered by everybody else too, as blues royalty. Yet, B.B., Albert and Freddie approached the electric guitar in very different ways. It’s impossible to say which one is better; ‘best’ depends on your mood and the day. But one truth that applies to all 3 Kings is this: the blues were their Holiness and the guitar the particular diving rod by which they wrestled out its true gospel.
Though lists such as the ones music magazines feel they are compelled to assemble are pretty irrelevant, for what its worth here’s what Rolling Stone has to say and how they rank the three Kings.
Number 13. Albert King
When Rolling Stone reporter Jon Landau asked Albert King in 1968 who his guitar influences were, King replied, “Nobody. Everything I do is wrong.” A pioneer of electric blues, King (who was left-handed) played a right-handed 1959 Gibson Flying V upside down, with the bass strings unconventionally facing the floor. He used an indecipherable secret tuning, hitting notes with his thumb. The six-foot-four, 300-pound King was able to bend notes farther and more powerfully than almost any other guitarist, and his records influenced a generation: Eric Clapton lifted the “Strange Brew” solo from King, and Duane Allman turned the melody of King’s “As the Years Go Passing By” into the main riff of “Layla.” Jimi Hendrix was star-struck when his hero opened for him at the Fillmore in 1967. “I taught [Hendrix] a lesson about the blues,” said King. “I could have easily played his songs, but he couldn’t play mine.”
Number 15. Freddy King
In a 1985 interview, Eric Clapton cited Freddy King’s 1961 B side “I Love the Woman” as “the first time I heard that electric lead-guitar style, with the bent notes… [it] started me on my path.” Clapton shared his love of King with fellow British guitar heroes Peter Green, Jeff Beck and Mick Taylor, all of whom were profoundly influenced by King’s sharpened-treble tone and curt melodic hooks on iconic singles such as “The Stumble,” “I’m Tore Down” and “Someday, After Awhile.” Nicknamed “The Texas Cannonball” for his imposing build and incendiary live shows, King had a unique guitar attack. “Steel on steel is an unforgettable sound,” says Derek Trucks, referring to King’s use of metal banjo picks. “But it’s gotta be in the right hands. The way he used it – man, you were going to hear that guitar.” Trucks can still hear King’s huge impact on Clapton. “When I played with Eric,” Trucks said recently, “there were times when he would take solos and I would get that Freddy vibe.”
Number 6 B.B. King
B.B.’s influences were set at an early stage. Being from Indianola, Mississippi, he goes back far enough to remember the sound of field hollers and the cornerstone blues figures, like Charley Patton and Robert Johnson. The single-note phrasing of T-Bone Walker was another thing. You can hear those influences in the choice of melodies that he not only sings vocally but lets his guitar sing instrumentally.
He plays in shortened bursts, with a richness and robust delivery. And there is a technical dexterity, a cleanly delivered phrasing. This was sophisticated soloing. It’s so identifiable, so clear, it could be written out. John Lee Hooker – his stuff was too difficult to write out. But B.B. was a genuine soloist.
There are two things he does that I was desperate to learn. He originated this one cut-to-the-bone phrase where he hits two notes, then jumps to another string and slides up to a note. I can do it in my sleep now. And there’s this two or three-note thing, where he bends the last note. Both figures never fail to get you moving in your seat – or out of your seat. It’s that powerful.
There was a turning point, around the time of [1965’s] Live at the Regal, when his sound took on a personality that is untampered with today – this roundish tone, where the front pickup is out of phase with the rear pickup. And B.B. still plays a Gibson amplifier that is long out of production. His sound comes from that combination. It’s just B.B.
01 (The Welfare) Turns Its Back On You [Freddie King]
02 Born Under A Bad Sign [Albert King]
03 Sweet Little Angel (Live) [B.B. King]
04 Blue Shadows [B.B. King]
05 Until I’m Dead and Cold [B.B. King]
06 Ghetto Woman [B.B. King]
07 Blue Suede Shoes [Albert King]
08 Street Life [B.B. King and the Crusaders]
09 Sugar Sweet [Freddie King]
10 Just Like A Woman [B.B. King]
11 Down Hearted [B.B. King]
12 Dyna Flow [Albert King]
13 Why I Sing The Blues [B.B. King and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland]
14 Ain’t nobody’s Business [Freddie King]
15 Ain`t No Sunshine When She`s Gone [Freddie King]
16 Blues Power [Albert King]
17 Come On [Freddie King]
18 Crosscut Saw [Albert King]
19 Beautician Blues [B.B. King]
20 Hide Away [Freddie King]
21 I’m On My Way To Atlanta [Freddie King]
22 Killing Floor [Albert King]
23 Look On Yonder Wall [Albert King]
24 B.B.’s Boogie [B.B. King]
25 Night Life [B.B. King and Bonnie Raitt]
26 Please Send Me Someone to Love [B.B. King and Gladys Knight]
27 Stormy Monday [Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan]
28 The Sky Is Crying [Albert King]