If you ever think it’s too late to follow your dreams or even switch careers, you should talk to Albert Cummings.
The 43-year-old blues guitarist, who will bring his act to the Iron Horse Music Hall on Friday didn’t start playing guitar until he was in his teens, and didn’t really pursue it until about 27 or 28. And he says he’s still learning.
“I’m still pretty naive about some stuff,” he said with a chuckle during a telephone interview last week. “But what keeps me going is that I’m good at playing Albert Cummings stuff. I never play other people’s stuff note-for-note because I don’t want to, plus, I can’t.”
That alleged naiveté has taken him a long way. Cummings, a Williamstown native, has drawn many comparisons to his hero, Stevie Ray Vaughn but he has really carved out both his own sound and style on the six-string. This mastery of guitar is striking, because until his teenage years, he only had played banjo.
“I was always into guitar because my father was a guitarist but he only higher long before I came along,” Cummings said. “So there was a guitar around but as a kid my hands were too small to to get around the neck. But my fathers friend showed me how to play banjo,which had a thinner neck. Since I loved bluegrass, it was perfect. I found something I could play well, and being a kid, with all that free time, I got good at it.”
As he grew up, he found he could now handle the guitar but didn’t do much with it—until a chance occurrence when he was in Boston at age 19: He saw a sign for a Stevie Ray Vaughn show at The Orpheum and decided to go.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “My father played in big bands and there wasn’t a lot of improvisation, so I never knew you could do what Stevie did with a guitar. I walked out of that show and knew what I wanted to do and said goodbye to the banjo forever.”
But although he started developing his chops, it would be another eight or nine years before he could really dedicate himself to the guitar. As a fourth-generation builder, he wasted to grow his business—which he still has—first.
“I actually never even thought of getting a band. I didn’t think I wanted to do that, but then I got the itch to try it. I’m only reaching point where I really want to go for it full-out,” he said.
One motivation for his ongoing pursuit of his dream came years ago when he opened for B.B. King, an honor he’s had 26 times. After a show, one of King’s assistants told Cummings that the blues legend wanted to see him. Cummings thought he might have done something wrong and was worried King was going to chastise him.
“I walked into the room and he said, ‘Sit down, Albert,’ and I thought I was in trouble,” Cummings said. “But then he told me how much he liked my playing, and I thought, ‘Wow, I’m being blessed by the master.’ It was such an honor.”