Classic Electric Blues albums are not hard to find. The Blues has many historical, reference worthy LP’s that have been released over the years that give great examples which represent the genre as it has come to be defined. But a handful of albums go beyond just defining the genre. One such album has become such a huge example of what Electric Blues is, it could be said that it IS the genre! When fans and historians are asked, time and again, to name just one album that seals the deal for what Electric Blues is, Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” is named time and again. Classic guitar work, rich vocals, catchy hooks and subject matter, all wrapped up in great tunes. “Born Under A Bad Sign” is a masterpiece and then some!
Albert King had already earned the reputation of a seasoned performer when he signed with Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee in 1966. Stax was the home of many other great artists, including Soul greats Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave. Many thought Albert King’s deep Blues style may be a little out of place with Stax at the time. They were forgetting one thing though- Stax’ house band was Booker T. & the MG’s. These guys could play anything, and their specialty was backing up an artist and making them shine. The MG’s were Guitarist Steve Cropper, Keyboardist Booker T. Jones, Drummer Al Jackson Jr. and Bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn. If ever there was a band that cooked, Booker T. & The MG’s was it!
The singles market was still all the rage in the late 60’s, so Stax wasted no time in getting Albert King singles out to the public. By June of 1967, Stax owner Jim Stewart sensed the public’s record buying direction changing. Long playing albums were starting to gain popularity. Stewart had a good handful of Albert King tunes that had already been released as singles. A few more could be laid down, and Stax would have enough material to put out a full album of Albert King.
[pullquote]“Born Under A Bad Sign” has stood the test of time. It’s influence on modern Electric Blues cannot be emphasized enough.[/pullquote]
In August of 1967, “Born Under A Bad Sign” took the world by storm. The title track kicks things off, and jumps right out of the speakers, grabbing the listener’s attention. The MG’s are right there, lifting Albert King up like a proper backing band should. The Memphis Horns are also along for the ride. The great Wayne Jackson on Trumpet, along with Saxophonist’s Andrew Love and Joe Arnold really make this a band that can’t be beat!
Up next is “Crosscut Saw.” Many have tried their hand at this tune over the years, but every time you listen to this album, you’re reminded that no one can outdo the King! Albert puts his own unique spin on the classic tune “Kansas City” and then throws “Oh Pretty Woman” at us. This is another Electric Blues Classic. It’s become so standard and concrete, one can often forget how powerful it sounded when Albert King first introduced it.
“Down Don’t Bother Me” once again showcases the great horn work of the contributing artists, and then we are introduced to “The Hunter.” This tune shows the world that Albert can Rock with the best of ‘em! The single string, bent guitar licks jump out and show us where anyone and everyone from Eric Clapton to Stevie Ray Vaughan went to school. This is the school of Albert King!
Albert King always had a knack for tackling a great ballad. Here, in the middle of all this great, Electric Blues, he gives us his take of Ivory Joe Hunter’s “I Almost Lost My Mind.” Once again, those great, single note Albert King licks hit us, reminding us that Albert’s gonna have us back swinging real soon! And so into “Personal Manager” we go! This one was a staple in King’s live shows throughout his career, and along with “Laundromat Blues” give the album some great, catchy subject matter that keep the listener’s attention, where other album’s might find the listener wanting to skip a track at this point in the LP. Not so here! The King is holding court!
“As The Year’s Go Passing By” was another staple of Albert’s live shows. A great, minor key gem, he always stretched out on this one when he did perform it live, but the studio version is a great example of keeping it short but very effective.
[pullquote]In 2013, the album will be reissued with 5 previously unreleased bonus tracks. A must have for Blues lovers![/pullquote]
Many artists would close with something that shows them pulling out all the stops. By the time the listener gets to the end of “Born Under A Bad Sign”, there’s nothing left to prove! So Albert once again pulls out a great ballad to wind things down. “The Very Thought Of You” again shows what a great singer King is. His vocal style always had a powerful, almost strained feel to it, but not strained in a bad way. More in a way that put his voice right in the sweet spot for him. A classic voice to go with classic guitar licks!
“Born Under A Bad Sign” has stood the test of time. It’s influence on modern Electric Blues cannot be emphasized enough. Listen to those great, single (sometimes double!) string bends and you’ll hear that Clapton, Hendrix, SRV, and countless others went to a school where one of the head teachers was named Albert King! Released in 1967, the album brought Blues into a modern stage. The great work of the Memphis Horns and the MG’s also paved the way for bands like The Electric Flag, Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears.
In 1999 “Born Under A Bad Sign” received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, and was ranked # 491 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. In 2013, the album will be reissued with 5 previously unreleased bonus tracks. A must have for Blues lovers!
The word “classic” is used time and again. But in 1967, Albert King set the World standard for what Electric Blues should be with “Born Under A Bad Sign.” And the World of the Blues has been better ever since!