The Ice Man shows up
Watching the film “Adventures in Babysitting” was a rite of passage for a kid in the 1980s. Like the title said, it was an adventure. It was a plausible adventure. And since I lived in the Upper Midwest, it was geographically plausible, too.
The film shows a babysitter and a band of kids heading from the suburbs to downtown Chicago. (I should also note that this started my fascination with the big city, and Chicago in particular.) In one scene, the group finds themselves escaping the bad guys by entering the backdoor of a blues club. This makes more sense to me as an adult: Chicago + live music venue = blues.
The group ends up on stage with the blues band. Bar patrons fall silent. The next line of dialogue comes from the singer dude with a guitar. He says with a drawl, “Ain’t nobody leaves this place without singin’ the blues.” This line became an enduring catchphrase for my family. It still makes us laugh. The scene continues with the whole group of white suburban kids joining the black blues band in an ad-libbed blues song about their plight. The crowd loves it, and the bad guys are kept at bay for another scene.
Who was this mysterious man with the guitar? He didn’t look like any familiar actor of the era. Maybe he was one of those actors with small roles, making a living in the movie world without much fanfare. For many years after that, he remained the guy that said, “Ain’t nobody leave this place without singin’ the blues.”
The Ice Man on air, on VHS
Years later, while I was working at a public radio station, this weird little part of my life story took on another development. This station played a fair amount of blues, which set it apart from any other radio station in rural Iowa. I was digging around in the 30,000+ title library, and discovered several CDs by Albert “The Ice Man” Collins. I thought, “Hey, this dude looks familiar.” The investigation was on.
(They call him “The Ice Man” because of his signature sound on guitar–sharp like an ice pick.)
We again watched our illegally-duplicated VHS copy of “Adventures in Babysitting.” I can still picture it, with my sister’s ornate cursive handwriting on the sticker and the little tab removed to prevent someone from accidentally recording over it. When the credits rolled, it was confirmed–it was Albert Collins. BOOM.
Though I had discovered Albert Collins in that radio station library, I wasn’t really into his music. I loved the blues, but I didn’t have a taste for the heavily-produced, slick-sounding records of his 1980s output on that library shelf. He made it onto the list of “Artists That I’m Aware Of But Not Really All That Fond Of.” He stayed there for another several years.
The Ice Man won’t go away
The next time Albert Collins comes up, I’m actually living in a different state. My wife and I moved to Minneapolis. It was the era of music downloads. My subscription to the legit mp3 service emusic.com pointed me to a live recording from 1969. In it, The Ice Man played at the Fillmore West as an opening act to the Allman Brothers band (one of my favorites). Maybe Albert Collins sounded different back in the day? I used some of my monthly points to download this album, and I was blown away. This is the sound that I was into. Albert Collins moves into “Artists That I’m Into.”
When an artist moves into the “Artists That I’m Into” column, I start sleuthing. When did they start recording? What labels did they record for? Who did they play with, hang around with? My next stop was the Electric Fetus, our local record store/cultural institution. I found a CD titled “Truckin’ with Albert Collins” for $6.99 in the bargain bin. The cover featured that face I’d seen in the movie in the 1980s. I’d heard samples online, and it sounded real fine. These popping, sprightly, instrumental blues tunes quickly made their way into the heavy rotation on my iPod and in the car on road trips.
The Ice Man on wax
A couple of years later, I was back at the Electric Fetus record store where I happened upon a vinyl LP copy of this same record. I quickly purchased it (though the cover was in rough shape with a split seam). Again, heavy rotation on the turntable at home. This isn’t one of those albums of fleeting fancy. It’s one that sticks with you for life, no matter the format.
A year or so later, I was in a Half Price Books store, browsing through the records. I happened upon one titled “The Cool Sound of Albert Collins.” It was still sealed, and priced at $5.99. I took out my mobile phone and looked up the track listing of that other Albert Collins record. (I must say, having mobile internet access in your pocket has made record collecting much easier and better-informed. Less guessing. Gotta love that.) Though it had the same songs, the cover was in better shape. It was a different cover, too–a 1960s-looking painting of a Tom Collins glass. Get it, Tom Collins–Albert Collins. CLEVER, GUYS. I bought it with the intention of selling my other beat up copy.
I get it home and do a bit more research. Turns out that a sealed (but water-damaged) copy of “The Cool Sound of Albert Collins” had sold on eBay recently for $450. I paid $5.99. This is one of those stories we record nerds love to tell. It just so happens that the story behind this one started without me even realizing it when I was a kid in the 1980s. I opened it up (sacrilege to some record collectors) and listened to it. I still listen to regularly.
Not every record I own has a history like this. I wish they did, sort of.