Albert Collins - Cookin' Catfish
The Master of the Telecaster,
Mr. Albert Collins
Albert Collins was the man. The Iceman that is... Though he was best known for his later “straight” blues recordings for the Alligator label, Collins had behind him a 15 year history of recording some extremely hot R&B/rock/blues fusion 45s. Collins (read more here) had a band that featured his slashing guitar, as well as organ and saxophone. They played the bars of Texas for years, with Collins employing an extra-long guitar cord so he could walk out into the audience (a bit lifted from the late great Guitar Slim). Starting in the mid-50’s Collins recorded a string of great 45s for a variety of labels including, Kangaroo, Hall, Hall-Way, TFC, Tracie, 20th Century and Imperial. Ostensibly a blues artist, Collins’ sounds covered a wider range, incorporating rock’n’roll, soul/R&B and even surf-ish guitar instrumentals. His 1962 recording ‘Frosty’ was a huge hit. The Hall/Hall-Way/TFC 45s, which encompass a period from the early to mid-60’s are all worth grabbing. Tunes like ‘Sno-Cone’ (later covered by the J. Geils Band on their first LP), Defrost, ‘Sippin’ Soda’ and ‘Don’t Lose Your Cool’ (picking up on a theme yet??) sound less like a bar-tested blues journeyman and more like a rock combo with their ear pressed to the charts (and a shit-hot guitarist in their ranks). In fact, listening to a tune like ‘Thaw Out’ makes me wonder if Texas garage punkers like Mouse & The Traps or the Elites weren’t wearing these 45s out on their Close’n’Plays (and it’s not hard to hear the influence Collins had on Texas teens like Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughn). Collins recorded an LP for Hall (‘The Cool Sound of Albert Collins’ released in 1965) that included many of the 45 sides. Following his tenure with Hall, he recorded 45s for Tracie and 20th Century. The 20th Century 45 is today’s selection, the absolutely deadly ‘Cookin’ Catfish’. First, a slight detour.... In 1968, Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite of Canned Heat convinced Imperial Records to sign Albert Collins. Collins went on to record three excellent LPs for Imperial, all carrying on his tradition of fusing blues/rock and soul (and for the first time recording Collins as a vocalist). I suspect that ‘Cookin’ Catfish’, which dates from 1968 may have been part and parcel of Collins interaction with Hite and Canned Heat. This is suggested to me both by the date, and the fact that ‘Cookin’ Catfish’ reappeared later that year under the name ‘Doing My Thing’ on the ‘Trash Talkin’ LP on Imperial. The tune opens with a horn blast and immediately hits its stride with Collins soloing. Shortly, things drop back just a touch to allow an organ solo (likely Walter McNeil who played with Collins through the 60’s). ‘Cookin’ Catfish’ (which sounds like a not-too-distant cousin of ‘Green Onions’) is a certified soul dancer with a great energy. Following his Imperial recordings, Collins recorded an LP and a few singles for the Tumbleweed label and then dropped out of the game for seven years, working as a carpenter (ain’t that a fuckin’ waste??), until Bruce Iglauer at Alligator signed him up. Collins continued to record until his untimely death from cancer in 1993. Fortunately, the reissues of Collins’ best work aren’t too hard to track down. For the budget conscious, there’s the CD “Truckin’ With Albert Collins’, which was a Tumbleweed-era reissue of ‘The Cool Sound of Albert Collins’. The Imperial LPs are available on a couple of budget reissues, and if you’re lucky you might be able to catch a copy of the EMI ‘Complete Imperial Recordings’. For the hard core among you, Japan’s P-Vine label has reissued Collins earliest recordings for the Kangaroo label (including ‘Collins Shuffle’). If you are – like me – a certified 45 nut, many of Collins Hall-Way era 45s (as well as some of the Imperials) are findable in the $10 to $20 range.