Blues Rocker Albert Cummings Signs with A Major Label
Provogue Records has announced that blues-rocker Albert Cummings of Williamstown, Massachusetts has just signed with the label, part of the Mascot Records Group whose artists roster includes Joe Bonamassa, Gov’t Mule, Beth Hart, Eric Gales, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, and Walter Trout. The label plans on releasing Albert’s next CD early next year.
Albert’s upcoming shows in New York and surrounding areas include an October 4th date at the Strand Theatre in Hudson Falls, November 8 at The Stone Church in Brattleboro, November 9 at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, November 22 at Daryl’s House in Pawling, Nov 23 at Geneseo Riviera in Geneseo. He’s also on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise out of Fort Lauderdale in January.
This year, Albert was nominated in May for The Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Award for Blues Rock Album of the Year for his independent release Live at the ’62 Center. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top won for The Big Bad Blues, but Albert will surely get another shot at it, and next time he’ll win.
There’s a common cliché that real artists don’t pick music, the music picks them. It’s also a truism that the best blues artists take a lifetime to build a career whereas rock stars flash early and spend much of their careers touring on their greatest hits. At 52, Albert Cummings may be too old to be called a rock star, but for my money, he’s as good or better than his new label mates.
Albert’s music career wasn’t even considered when at 27 he first played guitar in public. It was at a wedding reception, one of those situations where family and friends push, nudge and cajole the shy and unassuming guest to play. He did, they loved him, he loved the rush. And that was it. He was hooked.
There was only one problem. Whereas, most musicians have a day job until they can build a following large enough to support their “habit,” Cummings had a career. He was – and is – a fourth-generation home builder in Williamstown, Massachusetts. And not just any old homes. We’re talking million-dollar showcases fancy enough to make the covers of home building magazines.
Music was the tail wagging the dog. And to make matters more challenging, Albert had a philosophy in his music that would be a death knell in home building: “If you’re thinkin’ you’re stinkin.’” In other words, he’s a natural who pulls his talent on guitar from deep inside and performs regularly without a net. By that, I mean he never has a setlist. He just mounts the stage, flips a switch and he’s off. Hendrix had that quality. Walter’s idol Stevie Ray Vaughan had it. But more than that, Albert has an ability to take the listener on a roller coaster ride of riffs. That is to say, there’s no down time in his sets. They’re thrill rides from the first note to the last.
The first time I heard Albert perform was in 1998 when he and his band at the Time, Swamp Yankee, played at one of the Northeast Blues Society jams. I knew from that moment that he had world-class potential. In 1999, he represented the Blues Society at the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge. “It’s not winning, it’s showing up (that counts),” he said at the time. “I lost miserably down there, but I’m doing well now, and I think it would be a good encouragement for bands who go through that and feel like, ‘Oh, shoot! I was really upset that I didn’t even place. In my own mind, I was like, ‘What’s wrong with me, you know?’”
I was asked by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to book several blues bands in 2000 for their Communiversity Day, an effort to bring the college and the community closer together. Knowing that Albert idolized the late Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band Double Trouble, I arranged to have them back him at the event. Originally scheduled for outdoors, it was moved inside because of the threat of rain. Cummings found himself playing with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band in the RPI Field House, the same arena that inspired his guitar playing when he’d seen Stevie play in 1989.
He would go on to record True to Yourself with Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton and bass player Tommy Shannon for Blind Pig Records. In 2008 he recorded a live concert at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in front of an enthusiastic hometown crowd that Blind Pig released as Feels So Good. He had a 103-degree fever that night, but he hit a home run. He was so sick from strep throat that he looked like a wilting violet under the stage lights, sweating so hard he had to change towels several times through two sets.
Most live recordings are done over the course of two or more nights of performance. Not Albert. He had one shot. Everyone in that audience was on his team. The band merged with the sold-out throng, and the whistling, cheering, singing crowd became a driving element of the band. The space between the seats and stage disappeared and we all flew above the balcony.
In my review of the album, I said, “Albert Cummings doesn’t go over the top, he slices cleanly through it. He flies above the bridge between the two genres of rock and blues. This “vehicle” never touches the road long enough to leave skid marks. I was in the eighth row center for this show recorded in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in the Colonial Theater, a 95-year-old “little jewel box” – that’s what James Taylor calls it – that’s hosted everyone from Will Rogers to Al Jolson. On this CD, you’re right there next to me. The sleepy Berkshire Mountains city never knew what hit until after veteran producer Jim Gaines closed down the soundboard. The beer was sold out before Cummings struck a note.”
A decade later, Albert told me, “We joke about the multiple personalities, but I truly believe I have it. ‘Albert’ will walk out on that stage, and then he’ll leave. ‘The Other Guy will kick him off and say, ‘Get the hell out of here ’cause now it’s my turn.’ Once I hand it over to him, I got no control. So, he just does his thing, and I just sit there and watch.”
His performance at The Egg earlier this year illustrated his point. In my review of that show, I said, “Albert Cummings has bullets in every chamber. I’ve experienced his free rides for 21 years, and I’ve never seen him strip gears. This guy’s honey-soaked licks put the listener in blues-rock nirvana from the first note to the last. And it’s all organic. No GMOs.
“Cummings’ show on June 14th nearly sold out the mid-size Egg Theater filled with a home town crowd that adores him. Watching the people in the audience was almost as much fun as listening to the show. I sat next to a middle-aged man whose face to the wind looked like a Mount Rushmore stone carving. His eyes never blinked. The intensity was palpable. A woman in front of me bounced constantly. I thought she was going to break the seat. Cummings told the crowd that this show was a dream come true for him referring to a show he’d done early in his career at Positively Fourth Street in Troy, and he told me afterward that his goal is next time to fill the large Egg theater.”
Albert always says “If you’re thinkin’ you’re stinkin’” when it comes to playing music. That’s just another way of saying he’s a natural.
In a new press release, Albert is quoted as saying, “It’s such an honor to be part of a label that has helped shape the careers of the greatest guitar players our world has ever known. I’m confident that Provogue is the right home for me and I look forward to working with them and getting some new music to the loyal supporters that I have.”