By Martine Ehrenclou
Regarded as a blues/rock guitar virtuoso, expressive singer and song writer, Albert Cummings has built a reputation on his guitar wizardry and thrilling live performances. With a career spanning 20 years, Cummings first garnered attention from Double Trouble (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section) who produced his first solo record, From The Heart. Blind Pig Records then signed him to a multi-album deal and released several of his albums.
His first live record Live At The ’62 earned Cummings a Blues Music Award nomination for Blues Rock Album. He has shared stages with BB King, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, Susan Tedeschi and more. 2020 saw Cummings release another acclaimed album Believe on Provogue Records, produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Jim Gaines.
Albert Cummings is set to release his tenth album, titled TENE Produced by multi-Grammy Award-winner Chuck Ainlay (Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits, Peter Frampton, Miranda Lambert.) With a guest spot by Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill, the album features 13 tracks written by Cummings, backed by a dream team of musicians including Greg Morrow (drums,) Glenn Worf (bass,) Michael Rojas (keyboards,) and Rob McNelley (guitar.) TENE ventures into modern blues, rock, country, soul and Americana and is set to release April 8th.
When asked about his upcoming album TENE, Albert Cummings said with humor, “I’m just a little excited about the new album. It’s a different record for me, but it’s everything I’ve always wanted to do.”
I encouraged him to elaborate.
Albert said, “I’ve never really let anybody into my space. I think early on I got pegged into the blues world and that’s no problem with me. But when I did the album with Double Trouble, I was instantly a blues guitarist. I came from five-string banjo. My whole life has been about country music with rock and blues. I just want to do my own music, my own thing and this is the first album where I’ve let people see that. There’s ballads, there’s country, there’s gospel, there’s blues, there’s rock. It’s all there. Put all my ingredients in a cup and shook it up, that’s what you get.”
After discussing how good TENE is, I asked Albert about working with Chuck Ainlay and how that came about.
“For years, I’d always wanted to go to Nashville,” Cummings said. “I kept searching top producers in Nashville and Chuck’s name kept coming up. I reached out to him just on a whim. We were doing a show at the City Winery in Nashville and I called him and said, “Hey, Chuck, I’m coming through.” This is like three or four years ago. I did not expect him to show up. But Chuck comes to the show and he brought the guitar player from the Mavericks with him. When I was done and walked out to meet and greet, there was Chuck. He said, ‘Albert, if you ever want to do an album, you call me.’ I kept that in the back of my mind until I felt ready.”
Albert continued. “I finally felt like I had the songs. I called him and I said, ‘Hey, Chuck. I’m thinking about doing that album.’ We planned it. And then he said, ‘We’re going to do this at Peter Frampton’s studio and I’m bringing in this guy and this guy.’ He brought in 18 players.”
“Vince Gill too,” I said.
With enthusiasm Albert said, “And Vince Gill too. I was finally ready. I didn’t want to go to Nashville until I felt like I was song writing-ready. I had started to think about my song writing differently. I was finally able to write clearly, write the way I wanted to. I thought it was perfect for Nashville. I don’t think I could have made a better choice. I’m so excited about these songs.”
“Tell me about the songs and the recording process,” I said.
Albert described how he went into the studio with 30 songs. “I’m sitting with Chuck and four of the biggest music geniuses in Nashville.” He described how he initially played the songs on acoustic guitar for Chuck and the band and they all discussed them. After going through a song a couple of times, they asked him if he liked it. “Are you kidding me?” Albert responded to them. “I love it.” And then they cut the song.
I asked him about “Meet The Man,” a beautiful ode to his father.
Albert said, “That song was my father’s views on death. That’s how my father saw it. When you died, you go to meet the man. That was his term for that. The day he died, I kissed him on the forehead and went home and wrote that song. I’ve been sitting on that song until I had the right spot for it. And I remember when we cut that track, I was a little nervous– this is as exposed as I get. People come to my shows and expect to hear some loud guitar busting up and all that, and they’ll get that. But they’ll never expect that they’re going to get this stuff.”
Albert explained that he focused on song writing for this album. I asked about his approach to writing songs. “From what you said, it sounds like the songs were pretty much done before you went into the studio with all of them.”
“Well, not so true. I mean most of them, yes,” he said. “Some of them like ‘Beautiful Bride,’ that song is one of the first I ever wrote. I sang that for Christina (his wife) at our wedding, at the reception.”
“It’s a beautiful song,” I said, “so moving.”
Cummings shared, “I actually recorded that song when I did From the Heart with Double Trouble. That was a dear song to me. I never felt like I recorded that song properly. When I got down here (to the recording studio), I knew right away that song was going on that album. Everything on the album is about positive things in life. That’s what I hope people get out of this. I’m sick and tired of negativity.”
I agreed. “How did you end up blending country-rock with blues and rock on this album?”
Cummings explained. “My style of blues and the traditionalists are not big fans. So I started putting country on there. They might even get more upset. But I just said on this one, I don’t really care anymore about where I’m going to be accepted. I just want to be honest and real with what I provide, because as far as I can see, there’s only one Albert. And I don’t mean that arrogant. There is only one you. I got some serious country in me. I got some serious rock. I got some serious blues in me. I got bluegrass, I got gospel. I don’t want to be a part of a mold anymore. I just want to do my own thing.”
I asked him about his song “Last Call.”
‘Last Call’ has Vince Gill on it. Can you imagine this? It’s crazy. I got Vince Gill on my record,” he said. About the song he added, “It’s a true story. I mean, you’ve lived that story. If you listen to that song, most anybody I know or have ever met has lived that story. Have you ever closed down a bar? Of course you have. Have you ever gone to a bar that’s open late after that? Of course you have. It’s a simple story and Vince loved it. That’s the song he wanted to be on.”
“Vince Gill is an amazing guitarist and singer,” I said.
Albert replied. “I don’t think there’s many people that can ever compare to Vince Gill, vocally and musically. That guy can rip guitar like no man ever.”
“Tell me about your songwriting process, for example ‘Two Hands,’” I asked.
Albert shared how ‘Two Hands’ was written. “After two nights in the studio with these guys, I went to dinner by myself and it was COVID so the place was almost empty. And I sat at a bar by myself eating my dinner and I typed the words to that song on my phone. I wrote that song just sitting there with it in my head. I liked it so much. I went to the studio early the next morning and I worked it all out with my guitar. And when they all came in, I said, ‘I want to try this song.’ And they didn’t know I just wrote it. And we recorded it.” He paused. “That was an environment with such support and love coming from these players and people that I just felt like I had a safety net. I didn’t have any worry.”
I said, “It sounds like a highly creative time. Do you think that creativity comes more easily when you’re surrounded by support and positivity?
Albert responded. “It does. If I’m going to be honest with people, I’ll just tell you. I’m always the type that’s like, I don’t know if I’m good enough. I’m worried about whether I could hold my own here. I’m in this place with these guys who are all Grammy-winning top players and what am I doing here? I had that same conversation with myself when I was in the studio with Double Trouble. I had that same conversation when I was playing with BB King and Johnny Winter, and the same one with Buddy Guy. I’m always doing that. But that’s what gives me a shot in the rear end to push myself. It’s just a part of me.”
“You’re hard on yourself,” I said. “But it sounds like in this situation you were surrounded by support.”
“Yeah, I am,” Albert said. “But they had me in every way so I could express myself with my guitar, my vocals, my everything. It was just such a wonderful thing. I want to bring that feeling to other people too. Music is a tough world. People, they cannot compliment and help each other enough. What they don’t realize is if they were true artists, they would have no competition.”
Known for touring a lot, I wanted to know what he liked most about performing live.
Albert said, “That’s kind of it. That’s where I get my therapy. Whenever I get a guitar in my hands and go on stage, that’s my happy space. I love playing with my band. I need to get back on the road and have my stories told.”
Wanting to hear more about Albert’s guitar playing, I asked if he felt it was in service to the song.
Cummings said, “It’s all in service to the song. This is guitar 101 for me. What’s the song about? I try to communicate with my guitar. I try to talk through my guitar with my feelings. Especially blues. No matter what, I’m talking to you somehow. This is something BB King could do. Stevie could do it. And I’m not saying I can do it. I’m just saying I’m trying to do it.”
“Who are you guitar or musical influences?” I asked.
Cummings said, “BB, Stevie, Freddie King, Albert King, all of them. Albert Collins, especially. Guys that command my attention with their playing. And that’s hard because the only way they can command you is if they’re being honest with their feelings. I hear a lot of guitar players. It’s rare to get a guy that just grabs a hold of your collar and it’s like, “Listen to what I’m telling you with my guitar.” And that’s like heaven when I hear something like that.”
Listen to “Need Somebody”
For more information on Albert Cummings see his website here.