Review: Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan – In Session (Stax, 2010)
This 1983 live performance summit meeting between a legend and a soon-to-be legend has been reissued a few times on CD, including a hybrid SACD in 2003 and a remastered CD edition in July 2010. This latest version augments the original eleven audio tracks with video of seven performances, adding “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “Texas Flood” and “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town” to the song list. At the time this pair met in a Canadian TV studio, Vaughan was blazing a trail into the blues world with his debut album, Texas Flood. King was long since a legend, and though he apparently didn’t recognize the name “Vaughan,” he immediately recognized the young guitarist who’d sat in with him whenever he played in Austin.
The video dimension turns this session into a master class for both Vaughan and the viewer. Vaughan is seen soaking up lessons from King’s guitar playing, stage manner and the verbal notes he provides between songs. What was previously a musical conversation now becomes a visual one as well. King is often seen marveling – almost in surprise – at Vaughan’s playing, and Vaughan’s expressions capture the joy he feels in so clearly making the grade. Without a live audience, the two bluesmen play for each other and for the blues. The ease of King’s play, the naturalness with which the guitar forms an extension to his soul is awe inspiring. The snippets of dialogue between the CD’s tracks have always shown the personal bond that complemented the guitar slingers’ artistic connection, but the visuals shed new light on the deep affection they clearly have for one another.
King and Vaughan are backed by the former’s tack sharp road band, and run through a set drawn mostly from King’s catalog. You can hear what was on the horizon, though, as Vaughan rips into his own “Pride and Joy” with monster tone and a gutsy vocal. Throughout the session the players trade licks and prod each other with solos that quote all the great players from whom they learned. King’s influence is clear in Vaughan’s playing, but hearing them side-by-side gives listeners an opportunity to hear how the same fundamentals change as they filter through different fingers and hardware. As Samuel Charters points out in one of the three sets of liner notes, Albert King fans will particularly savor the rare opportunity to hear and see him play rhythm guitar. The audio does a nice job of keeping their guitars separated slightly left and right, and the video lets you see exactly who’s playing what.
As free as both guitarists play, the band, the catalog, and the deference Vaughan shows King all tipped in favor of the latter setting the tempos, leading with his guitar and providing lessons and advice between songs. In any other venue Vaughan would be the master, but here he plays the role of apprentice. How many chances do you get to play with someone who can introduce “Blues at Sunrise” with “This is that thing, uh, I recorded with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin out there at the Fillmore West”? It was a good time to be the apprentice, and the addition of songs originally cut from the broadcast (to make room for commercials) notches this package up to five stars. Anyone who loves King, Vaughan or great blues guitar should catch this.