by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State
This Week in Texas Music History, the Ice Man cometh.
On October 1, 1932, blues guitarist Albert Collins was born in Leona. Like many East Texas artists of his generation, he soon gravitated to Houston and was playing in clubs there by 1952. In 1958, he recorded his first instrumental single, “The Freeze,” initiating a career of chilly song and album titles to match his “Ice Man” nickname: “Frosty,” “Snowed In,” Frostbite, Cold Snap, Ice Pickin’, and The Cool Sound of Albert Collins. And a cool character he was, fingerpicking and using unorthodox tunings to create a distinctive blues sound.
In the 1960s, Collins relocated to Kansas City and then California, where his raucous sound collided and colluded with the countercultural blues revival among artists like Canned Heat. He found new audiences through the 1970s, signing to the esteemed blues label Alligator Records and racking up Grammy and W. C. Handy awards. His unique presence carried over into live performance, where Collins often deployed an enormous extension cord that allowed him to perform throughout the audience. Once at Antone’s in Austin, Collins even played out the back of the club, into the pizzeria next door, and placed an order for later delivery on stage. The early 1990s found Collins at the top of his game: on stage at Carnegie Hall, on screens with the BBC, and in a blistering 1991 taping of Austin City Limits. He passed soon after in 1993, but his guitar echoes loudly, and cooly, through Texas blues to this day.