Although Stax was primarily a soul label, they also released gospel, funk, jazz and blues music. Without doubt, their most famous blues player was Albert King, who having released his debut album for King Records, The Blues, in 1962, signed to Stax in 1966. This would see Albert release seven albums between 1967 and 1974. Starting with 1967s Born Under A Bad SIgn, he followed this up with a live album, Live Wire/Blues Power in 1968. His second studio album for Stax was 1969s Years Gone By, before 1970s Blues For Elvis-King Does the King’s Things and 1971s Lovejoy followed in 1971. Next came I’ll Play the Blues For You In 1972 and then Albert’s final album for Stax I Wanna Be Funky, which was released in 1974, the year before Stax became insolvent. Of these albums, Albert King’s two best albums are Born Under A Bad SIgn and I’ll Play the Blues For You, which was recently remastered and released. Joe Tarantino who was given the job of remastering I’ll Play the Blues For You, has previously remastered a number of Stax album. Among them, are albums by The Staple Singers, The Dramatics, Booker T and The MGs and Shirley Brown. His remastering brought each of these albums to life. Will this be the case with Albert King’s I’ll Play the Blues For You? That’s what I’ll tell you, after I’ve told you about the background to I’ll Play the Blues For You and the music on the album.

By 1972, Albert King was releasing one album a year. His albums were steady sellers, consistently entering the US Billboard 200 and the US R&B Charts. Although Albert was most popular with blues fans, he’d also built up a following amongst rock fans. However, not many people had Albert King pegged as a soul singer, that is not until the release of his 1972 album I’ll Play the Blues For You. This might not have happened if fate hadn’t intervene. Albert was in Stax’s Memphis studios, searching for a song to record for his forthcoming album. Someone, Albert can’t remember who, suggested a Jerry Beach penned track, I’ll Play the Blues For You. This was added to the other six tracks that Albert recorded for his I’ll Play the Blues For You, his fifth studio album for Stax. 

Accompanying Albert King on I’ll Play the Blues For You, were two different rhythm sections, The Bar-Kays and The Movement.  Adding their inimitable sound were The Memphis Horns, who later, would play on so many Hi Records’ albums. With Allen Jones and Henry Bush producing the album, seven tracks were recorded. This saw Albert lay down a mixture of driving blues’ and some really soulful Southern Soul. How would Albert King’s fans respond to this combination of blues and soul? Would I’ll Play the Blues For You prove more successful than his previous albums, which had only enjoyed modest success?

When I’ll Play the Blues For You was released in the autumn of 1972, it proved to be the most commercially successful album of Albert King’s career so far. Not only did it reach number 140 in the US R&B Charts, but reached number eleven in the US R&B Charts. Angel of Mercy, which wasn’t on the original album, had been released as a single in February 1972, reached number forty-two in the US R&B Charts. Before the album was released, I’ll Play the Blues For You was the first single released from the album. It reached number thirty-one in the US R&B Charts in June 1972. Breaking Up Somebody’s Home was released in October 1972, eight months after Ann Peebles released her version of the song. Albert’s version reached number ninety-one in the US Billboard 100 and number thirty-five in the US R&B Charts. Ten years after Albert released his debut album, I’ll Play the Blues For You became his most successful album. However, why was I’ll Play the Blues For You such a successful album?

Opening I’ll Play The Blues For You is the title-track I’ll Play The Blues For You (Pts 1 & 2) written by Jerry Beach. It gave Albert a number thirty-one hit single in the US R&B Charts in June 1972. The Memphis Horns, rhythm section and atmospheric sound of a Hammond Organ combine, to provide a moody, emotive backdrop. Then when Albert enters, accompanied by his slow, spacious and shimmering guitar his pleading, hopeful vocal is tinged by hurt and loneliness. Rasping horns, percussion and the rhythm section provide the perfect backdrop for Albert’s half-spoken vocal. He leaves space within his playing, as it reverberates. Later, you think a soaring sultry saxophone has stolen the show. Not quite. Albert rises to challenge, playing heart-achingly beautiful, but sad solo. His playing, like that of his band is peerless, and his vocal isn’t just full of sadness and loneliness, but hope.

Henry Bush, Marshall Jones and Carl Smith cowrote Little Brother (Make A Way). It has a quite different sound to the previous track. A Hammond organ accompanies Albert’s tender thoughtful vocal, before the rhythm section and punchy, rasping horns enter. Although there’s a quite understated sound to the track, there’s still a funky side to the track. The rhythm guitar ensures this. Meanwhile, Albert’s playing is economical but effective. Horns, Hammond organ and the rhythm section playing their part in the success of this understated and soulful sounding track.

Eight month’s before Albert released Breaking Up Somebody’s Home, Ann Peebles released her version of the track. For many people, her version is the definitive version. Albert’s version is quite different, but still hugely soulful, but maybe, lacks the raw emotion of Ann’s version. He’e accompanied by braying horns, while the Hammond organ and rhythm section accompany Albert. His guitar playing is amongst the best on the album. It’s slow, crystalline and chimes, before he lays down a searing, sizzling solo. Similarly, his needy, vocal is full of frustration and loneliness. The Memphis Horns contribution can’t be underestimated, their playing reflecting the heartache in Albert’s voice and playing. Comparing Ann and Albert’s version isn’t fair. Both are very different in style. What they’ve got in common is their soulfulness.

From the opening bars of High Cost Of Loving, you realize that Albert King bluesman has entered the building. With a pounding rhythm section, punchy horns and  piano accompany Albert. Like a wizard, he casts a spell with his guitar playing. His playing veers between economical but effective, to a much more intricate and dramatic. Here, he delivers one of his most impassioned and emotive vocals, with horns adding to the drama, while the rhythm section drive the track along. The longer the track progresses, the harder it is to resist both Albert’s vocal and his guitar playing.

To many people, I’ll Be Doggone will sound like a live performance. This isn’t the case. The acclaim and applause of the audience is overdubbed. It works well, adding to a track which Smokey Robinson, Pete Moore and Marv Taplin cowrote. Originally recorded by Marvin Gaye, Albert’s fuses funk and blues. During the track, Albert is almost transformed into James Brown. He whoops, hollers and vamps his way through the track with blazing horns and a funky performance from The Bar-Kays accompanying him. Then out goes the funk, back comes the blues. Albert lays down a searing, sizzling blues guitar solo, raising the roof in the process and working his “audience” into a frenzy. In doing so, he demonstrates why he was one of the best blues players of the past fifty years.

Answer To The Laundromat Blues sees Albert replying to his first hit single for Stax, 1966s Laundromat Blues. It’s the only track on I’ll Play the Blues For You that Albert wrote. Sadly, his playing is much better than his lyrics. They’re full of the worst type of macho bravado. Threatening his partner with domestic violence if she doesn’t stay near her washing machine is far from funny. Instead, this despicable, sexist attitude is quite simply beyond the pale. The irony is, this bluesy track has some stellar guitar playing from Albert King.

After the unpalatable previous track, the ironically titled Don’t Burn Down The Bridge (‘Cause You Might Wanna Come Back Across) closes I’ll Play the Blues For You. For me, Albert burnt his bridges with the previous track. A pounding bass, piano and bursts of horns accompany Albert and his shimmering, quivering guitar. Stabs of Hammond organ and punchy horns are accompanied by a driving rhythm section. Later, Albert lays down another of his trademark chiming, searing guitar solos as his vocal is tinged with emotion and passion. This is a vast improvement on the previous track, with Albert and his band bring close I’ll Play the Blues For You on a blues drenched high.

For the first five tracks of I’ll Play the Blues For You I was really enjoying the album, spellbound by Albert King’s mixture of soul and blues. He started the album on a high, with title-track I’ll Play the Blues For You. It’s without doubt the best track on the album. Little Brother (Make A Way) has a lovely understated sound, allowing Albert’s vocal to take centre-stage and shine. Eight months before Albert released Breaking Up Somebody’s Home, Ann Peebles released her version. Comparing the two versions isn’t fair, given how different they are. Although, both feature emotive and impassioned vocals, for me Ann’s version is the definitive version. On I’ll Be Doggone, Albert is almost transformed into James Brown, vamping his way through the track, fusing funk and blues. Then came the blot on the landscape that is Answer To The Laundromat Blues, with its sexist lyrics, where Albert threatens his partner with domestic violence. That to me, spoiled I’ll Play the Blues For You, leaving me disappointed and angry. Following that disappointment, Don’t Burn Down The Bridge (‘Cause You Might Wanna Come Back Across) closed I’ll Play the Blues For You. This driving blues got the album back on track. Overall, I’ll Play the Blues For You is a good album, where  Albert King fuses funk, soul and blues, along with The Bar-Kays and the majestic Memphis Horns. Together, with five bonus tracks, including Angel of Mercy, a single which wasn’t on the original version of I’ll Play the Blues For You, this will be a welcome reissue to fans of Albert King. However, what really improves  I’ll Play the Blues For You is Joe Tarantino remastering, which breathes new life into an album that’s now forty years old. Standout Tracks: I’ll Play the Blues For You Parts (1&2), Little Brother (Make A Way), Breaking Up Somebody’s Home and High Cost of Loving.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: