CD Review: Albert King's 'Born Under A Bad Sign' Reissue

Friday, 03 May 2013 06:27 AM Written by 

bad sign cover


Albert King was a fairly obscure blues singer and guitarist when he recorded Born Under A Bad Sign for Stax Records in 1966 and 1967. The album, released in '67 and recently reissued by Concord Music, became one of the landmark modern blues records of that period, making King (real name: Albert Nelson) one of the pre-eminent guitar stylists of his time, in that same select group with B.B. King, T. Bone Walker, Freddie King, Buddy Guy and Albert Collins.  

King stood out visually from the others, in part because of his immense physical presence and for playing a Gibson Flying V guitar, then a fairly rare instrument, shaped like an upside down V, also the trademark instrument of rock guitar grea Lonnie Mack.

The album's influence was immediate. A good many numbers from the album were quickly picked up by the growing number of white blues musicians. John Mayall's Bluesbreakers covered "Oh Pretty Woman." The Paul Butterfield Blues Band added "Born Under A Bad Sign" to their repertoire quickly. Likewise, the Albert King guitar style quickly became a part of the styles of others, one in particular: Eric Clapton.  

A specific example? Well, here goes. The song: the buoyant, double-entendre "Crosscut Saw." Listen carefully to the guitar licks.

And then there's Clapton's playing on this immortal Cream number. It's based on another blues: "Lawdy Mama" (not an Albert song). Listen closely to the licks Eric plays, especially his solo break. The bent, extended notes, are pure Albert. And it's one of the things that got a lot of people—me included—wanting to hear Albert King in the late 60's (King died in 1992).

"Crosscut" has remained a part of Clapton's repertoire over the year, and the King influence in his still-brilliant playing remains along with echoes of B.B., Freddie, Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy, etc.

Back to Bad Sign. Recorded with the immortal Stax studio band of Booker T. and the MG's, with the Memphis Horns (with Isaac Hayes, not yet famous, doing some piano work along with Booker T.), the songs, the voice and the guitar come together to create an album that still holds up today. Songs like "Bad Sign." "Crosscut," "Oh Pretty Woman" and "Down Don't Bother Me" more than hold up nearly half a century later, as does the stomping "The Hunter."

But a few of the covers are equally hardy. King did respectable interpretations of "Kansas City" and the Ivory Joe Hunter standard "I Almost Lost My Mind," and a surprisingly effective rendering of the Ray Noble Orchestra pop hit "The Very Thought Of You."

The reissue includes four alternate takes of "Sign," "Crosscut," "Hunter" and "Personal Manager" and an instrumental with no title. The remastering is well done and for those who weren't around when the album first appeared, even if you have an Albert King anthology, Bad Sign remains a landmark worth having.

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