Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February 10: Albert King & Stevie Ray Vaughan, "Blues At Sunrise"

Artist: Albert King & Stevie Ray Vaughan
Song: "Blues At Sunrise"
Album: In Session
Year: 1983 (recorded)/1999 (released)

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While one need not question whether artists have idols, it is often a rare occasion when one of them gets to pay tribute to their hero whilst the hero in question is still alive. In most cases, the most touching and meaningful tributes do not occur until the artist has passed away, as often times, the artist and admirer never had the chance to meet, let alone meet in a creative environment. However, in these rare instances when the "student" and "teacher" find themselves in a free environment with their instruments of choice, it has produced some of the most amazing musical moments in history. Though it received tragically little press upon release, in 1999, Stax Records gave the world a complete, soundboard recording of one of these moments, when blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan sat in with his musical hero, Albert King. Recorded live on December 6, 1983 at a Hamilton, Ontario television station, In Session (taken from the name of the television show) contains just over an hour of stunning music, as both musicians are clearly enjoying themselves, though the songs are nearly all songs from King's live set. Though each track is worth hearing, there is simply no other recording in history that packs the punch and creates awe like the fifteen-minute long blues-jam masterpiece, "Blues At Sunrise."

Truth be told, this amazing recording session almost never happened, as Albert King initially rejected doing the TV show, as he had no idea "who" Stevie Ray Vaughan was. However, once someone explained that Vaughan was, as King said, "the skinny kid" who sat in with him when he was in Texas, the session was booked and King sat down to play alongside the man he called "little Stevie." In fact, King brings this up during the album, and it is truly a special moment in music history. "Blues At Sunrise" had been a part of King's live sets since it first appeared on record with 1968's Live Wire/Blues Power. Yet the original was only a short ten minutes in comparison, while the In Session version never gets dull at any point, which is a feat for a blues song of such length. With Vaughan still somewhat unknown at the time, as the session came only a few weeks after the release of his legendary debut, Texas Flood, it is almost shocking that the session did not degenerate into a "sparring" session between the two. It is quite the opposite, as each player gives the other plenty of room to explore, and they clearly push one another to greater heights as the session progresses. Though Vaughan is playing alongside the man to whom he owes nearly his entire career, he is not a copycat at any point, and shows King the amazing spin that he has put on the style.

This, in many ways, is what makes this recording so special; as the listener is treated to both the master and the apprentice, both in top form, simultaneously. With each listening, the songs get better and better, as one can hear King "schooling" the youngster, as much as one can hear Vaughan trying to impress his idol. There are many moments on the track where King clearly steps back, giving his protégé space to work, and the vocal encouragement remains one of the most outright "cool"moments in recorded history. The riffs, solos, and fills are all absolutely perfect, as the chemistry between the pair is immediately apparent, and this recording of "Blues At Sunrise" is a true classic of the genre. King's distinctive voice serves as the perfect compliment to the phenomenal music, and his inspired vocals truly take the song to another level. Along with his stunning musical and vocal performance, King also treats to a little "road story." Recalling an evening at the Fillmore West, King speaks of a backstage jam session involving him, presumably Jimi Hendrix, and "The Queen" AKA Janis Joplin. Such stories are usually reserved for small audiences, if that, and the fact that such an amazing memory has been preserved on tape is a treat that generations will be able to enjoy imagining.

Though music history has provided countless classic pairings of musicians over time, the duo of Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan represent perhaps the most rare type of pairing one can find. Standing as the only known recording of "master and student" together, In Session can, in many ways be seen as a "passing of the torch" to the new generation of blues guitarists. Throughout the recording, King proves that while he may have been "old school" by 1983, his playing was still as good and as powerful as ever, and one can clearly and easily hear the impact that his early work had through the playing of Vaughan. Furthermore, one would be hard pressed to make a case that Stevie Ray Vaughan has ever sounded as good as he does here, as he is clearly "stepping it up" in the presence of a man he held in such high esteem. Regardless of "why" these two guitar giants play in the manner they do, the resulting music is easily as legendary as each of the two artists, and the album remains an album that all music fans should experience firsthand. Taking King's legendary "Blues At Sunrise" and taking it to an entirely new level, the pair leave nothing on the table as they each fully explore each musical idea that is presented, constantly pushing one another to greater musical heights. Simply put, the recording of "Blues At Sunrise" that is found on In Sessions is an absolutely phenomenal performance, and there is truly nothing else that even comes close anywhere in music history.

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