Reviews Zone

Albert Collins And The Icebreakers: At Onkel Po’s Carnegie Hall, Hamburg, 1980 (Jazzline) 14th April 2017 (Vinyl LP 21st April)



4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)



This man could do no wrong for me. At all. Ever. The late and very great blues man, Master of the Telecaster, the Iceman; Albert Collins. Here captured live in Germany at a tiny venue which had a reputation for attracting big name US acts to appear despite the “cosy” size of the venue; the Carnegie Hall reference made very much with tongue firmly in cheek.

I recently reviewed the double disc live set of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie and another by Johnny Guitar Watson, both recorded at this same venue in Hamburg, and very good they are  too.  There are live albums from Chet Baker and Elvin Jones in the series too. All the recordings from this now legendary venue which ran from 1970, closed down by the authorities in 1986 because they blamed it for causing cracks to nearby buildings from the noise of the loud music, were made by the national German broadcaster NDR. There is a very tasty archive being plundered today.

I met and worked with Mr Collins twice. First time, was when he appeared at the star-studded Radio 1 FM American Music Festival at Crystal Palace Bowl, London, which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 1 on Juy 4th 1992, hosted by Johnnie Walker and Andy Kershaw. Kershaw interviewed Albert in a portable building backstage and was thrilled to have his photo taken with the Iceman, by me. I also setup some posed group shots of some of the stars appearing, including Albert, John Hammond, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Pops Staples, Buddy Guy and others. John Lee Hooker was also on the bill, and I got some cracking shots of him a few feet away on the side of the stage.

The second time I shot Albert, was in March 1993, his very last UK appearance some seven months before he died; when he was part of the Pointblank Records roster at that label’s festival held at London’s Borderline venue. The label was part of Virgin Records and run by producer John Wooler for Richard Branson.

I recall walking into the venue with Albert (I carried his guitar in for him!) as he and his band arrived with his manager John Boncimono, who also managed the great band The Kinsey Report also on that bill, featuring Donald Kinsey who actually played with Bob Marley and the Wailers many years ago. Albert was always upbeat and up for it, raring to go before a gig. We chatted about the possibility of bringing him over to do some shows in his right.  Lovely guy, and greatly missed.

Both times he tore the place a new one on stage. What a player. His attack on that Tele’ was quite something. Those eyes staring into space and his face telling its own story during his verging-on-violent solos. I loved his playing and still do. Many blues rock players have copied his aggressive attack and passed it off as their own style. But they ain’t fooling me!

Mixed emotions hearing him again, live on this record. Happy, because it is newly discovered and previously unreleased. Sad because he is not with us and died at the relatively young age of 61, in November 1993 after a three month battle with lung cancer. Albert Gene Drewery, was known as the Ice Man. Off stage a warm and friendly guy, on stage a great rapport with his audience, and that killer attack on guitar. Mr Stevie Ray Vaughan nodded heavily to Alberts playing with his own aggressive style.

Albert was known for having a very long guitar lead and leaving the stage for long periods during a show where his band would carry on, while he walked through the audience playing, even leaving the venue through the front door and playing on the pavement, but never missing a note. Apparently, he was playing a lengthy solo one night at Antone’s famous club in Austin, Texas and left the building while still playing. He returned to the stage still playing the solo and got back on stage to join his band. Shortly afterwards, a man arrived at the club and gave Collins the pizza which he had just ordered! He may not have taken himself too seriously and was always up for a gag, but boy was he a serious player.

The sad thing is; in 1971, when he was 39 years old, he worked in construction because he couldn’t make a proper living from his music. One of his jobs was a remodeling job for Neil Diamond’s home. In the late 1970s, [his wife talked him into returning to a career in music. Nice one Gwen! Albert was introduced to the guitar at an early age by his cousin, blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins who played at family gatherings.

In the spring of 1969, Collins was hired to play on the Ike and Tina Turner album “The Hunter”. On 13th July 1985, Collins performed with George Thorogood and the Destroyers at Live Aid, appearing as guest soloist on “Madison Blues”. The US part of the charity concert was held at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and, with simultaneous broadcasts in other countries, was viewed by over 1.5 billion people. In 1986, Collins won a Grammy with Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland for their classic smash hit album “Showdown”. Collins was the inspiration for Robert Cray to play the blues and Copeland was in an early line-up of Albert’s own band.

Albert Collins dropped 10 studio albums between 1965 and 1991, 10 live albums, four compilations and the “Showdown” record with Cray and Copeland. He released 17 singles, and made lots of guest appearances on records by Gary Moore, BB King, David Bowie, John Lee Hooker, Rory Gallagher and man y more. There’s half a dozen live DVDs knocking abut too.

When he performed on the tiny stage of„Onkel Pö‘s Carnegie Hall“ in Hamburg on a cold winter’s evening in 1980, he was joined by his long term crack band of A.C. Reed on tenor sax and vocals, Jackson Marvin on guitar, Johnny B. Gayden on bass and Casey Jones on drums and vocals. “Blues am Dienstag” (Blues on Tuesday), was in those days the almost compulsory radio show for blues fans, broadcast by NDR, who put out the concert that night. It took two decades for European audiences to show enthusiasm for Albert. It was one of his first journeys across the pond when he came to Onkel Pö  early in December 1980. In 1978, he had been a guest of the Dutch Barrelhouse band, his first ever gig outside of the USA.

The recording from Onkel Pö covers the entire concert. The first 20 minutes is minus Albert, while his band perform without him, A.C. Reed and Casey Jones singing. They deliver “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Dock Of The Bay” “Mama, Talk To Your Daughter”, (I like Robben Ford’s version of this song), “Howling For My Darling” and then The Ice Man is announced and it really is “Showtime”……… He kicks off with “Listen Here”, scat singing while playing the guitar in parallel runs. At the end of the song he performs his trademark party trick; making the guitar “talk“ with two different voices.

Then he gives us “I Got A Mind To Travel”, his theme tune “Frosty”, the excellent “Cold, Cold Feeling”, and then “Ice Pick” to close the first part of the show. The first disc here closes with the band minus Albert, on the classic “Stand By Me”. The first of four cuts before Albert comes back on. “Mojo Working,” “I’m Fed Up With This Music”, “She’s Fine” and then the announcement that Mr C is on his way back to the stage, for a rousing version of “Mustang Sally”.

The audience are well up for it and that little venue which held maybe 150 people legally but often crammed in double that or more, had a real party atmosphere and was red hot for the commeth of the Ice Man on this 1st December night almost four decades ago. An early Christmas present for those who were there, and for those who heard the radio broadcast.

The recording quality is top notch as it was made by the national broadcaster on their hi end gear, so it is not a “lost” bootleg made by a punter on mickey mouse equipment, as is often the case with archived live stuff. We get five more tracks, closing with a 20-minute version of “Cold Cuts” and including the old chestnut “Caledonia”.

The double CD set, which is also issued in vinyl, is a lovely reminder; as if anyone needed one, that Albert Collins was a true one off – albeit his skills were sat upon the foundation of the the legacy of T-Bone Walker – and his wonderful music lives on as he continues to influence countless guitarists today. An essential listen if you love the blues or if you are a guitarist. A no brainer if you miss The Iceman and his music as much as I do.


By Simon Redley



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