Born Albert King Nelson on April 25, 1923 in Indianola, Mississippi (also the hometown of BB King), King grew up, like many musicians of his time, performing in his family’s gospel group at church. At age eight, King and his family moved to Forrest City, Arkansas, where he picked cotton and switched his focus from gospel to the blues around him. He also started learning how to play the guitar, influenced by the likes of T-Bone Walker and Blind Lemon Jefferson. He first played a diddley bow, then a cigar box guitar he made himself until finally buying his first guitar for a whopping price of $1.25.
King signed onto his first professional music gig in the late 1940s, when he joined a band named In the Groove Boys in Osceola, Arkansas, performing at night at the T-99 Club, which was a regular stop for famed bluesmen of the time. From Osceola, King moved around during the 1950s with stops in Gary, Indiana, St. Louis and Chicago, at times working as a drummer on stage and recording for Jimmy Reed. In St. Louis in 1959, King formed a new band and had his first minor hit, “I’m a Lonely Man,” written by future Stax labelmate Little Milton Campbell for the Bobbin Records label.