CD Review of Live in Montreaux 1992 by Albert Collins
Recommended if you like
Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown,
Smokin' Joe Kubek
Eagle Records
Albert Collins:
Live in Montreaux 1992

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD


n 2008, there's a lot of good blues left. There are some new artists, and some old standbys still taking their hacks in the studio and doing it live onstage.

But there was only one Albert Collins, one of the dinosaurs of electric blues. Guys like Collins – known as "The Iceman" or, if you prefer, "The Master of the Telecaster" – and Buddy Guy ushered the blues out of 1950s juke joints and made it relevant to rockers like the Stones and Hendrix, with their electric-axe showmanship and monumental stage presence that would raise the performance level of any dudes playing with them.

Hearing the Iceman on this CD, culled from a Montreaux festival performance in 1992 – and more importantly, seeing him on the companion DVD, which includes bonus tracks from 1979, too – reminds us how great he was, especially compared to his followers. That's not a diss to the Smokin' Joe Kubeks and others who follow his guitar-god blueprint and make their own great tuneage; it's just a simple acknowledgment that he was, and remains, one of the greatest ever. It's like saying hey, Johnny Bench was great, a Hall of Famer. But Yogi Berra and Elston Howard weren't chopped liver, you know?

That's what makes this dive into the vaults worth doing: It's loaded with horn-drenched Texas blues featuring that great one-note soloing, and of course his one-of-a-kind singing, kind of a nasal rasp that blues fans have come to love. Just seven tracks long, the 1992 gig found the 60-year-old (one year before his death) in sharp form playing an hour's worth of favorites like "Iceman," "Frosty," and "Honey Hush." You can hear in his playing how his style bridged the gap between Lightnin' Hopkins and Stevie Ray, from prehistoric to modern. While the opener "Iceman" is a quick four-minute rip through his signature cut, the best parts of this performance come during the long jams, such as the 15-minute-plus funky shuffle "Put the Shoe on the Other Foot," where the sound quality gets a little iffy but the groove never wavers and the crowd stays in it to the end.

The DVD takes the package to a whole 'nother level, doubling the total tuneage with Collins' Montreaux debut in 1979, back when he was fresh off his first Alligator record, Ice Pickin'. The shows bookend the latter part of his career, when he was finally given his rightful place in the American blues pantheon by fans – this after the fallow 1970s that saw him hang up his guitar in favor of construction and decorating. In fact, the liner notes to Live in Montreaux 1992 tell the story: Neil Diamond, of all people, hired him to work on his home, and along with Iceman's wife Gwen, encouraged him to take to the stage anew and restart his performing career. Once he did, he never looked back, and earned himself a Grammy in the process.

It's just another sad reflection on American music fans – they turned their back on their great blues originals for a time, and but for a few key figures like Alligator Records' Bruce Iglauer and the great fans of the Canadian and European stage circuit, these guys would have said "the heck with it," and quit on us. It's only fitting that a 2008 tribute to the great Albert Collins would arise from a couple key Swiss performances. Anyone with even a mild appreciation for the blues – and a well-tuned funky bone – will dig both the CD and DVD in this release.

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