Born Under a Bad Sign

King, Albert

album cover

A Classic from a King of the Blues

File this under "Change does a bluesman good." For the early part of the 1960s, Albert King (1923–1992) recorded fairly conventional electric blues for regional labels in St. Louis and Chicago, with little success. In 1966, he was invited to cut a few singles for the Stax label in Memphis, and that's when lightning struck. Backed by the überconfident band known as Booker T. and the MGs—organist-pianist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, drummer Al Jackson Jr.—King found himself at the center of an earthier, less-traditional attack, one informed by rock and rhythm and blues. In this context, his lusty blues-guitar boilermakers resonate with devastating force, separating him from the other "Kings" of the blues, B.B. King and Freddie King.

Born Under a Bad Sign collects these first singles, several of which reached into the Top 40 on Billboard's R&B chart. Usually such compilations are unsatisfying hodge-podges, but these singles make a strikingly coherent package, one that feels as though it was planned as an album sequence. Every track is demonically inspired, and funky in ways lots of electric blues is not. Each features the left-handed guitarist King, whose broad, gut-wrenching sound has no peer in the world of guitar; so powerful is his solo on "Personal Manager," British blues disciple Eric Clapton plays chunks of it, note-for-note, on Cream's "Strange Brew."

After he's blown convention to smithereens, King throws a curve with the final track—a version of the Ray Noble torch song "The Very Thought of You." The mighty King, who was known as the "Velvet Bulldozer," has evidently decided that it's quitting time. He's done all the heavy lifting, and now he's gonna sit back and swing easy, and prove to all doubters that a blues belter who's not even particularly respected for his singing can, in the right atmosphere, turn a song like this out.

Genre: Blues
Released: 1967, Stax
Key Tracks: "Born Under a Bad Sign," "Crosscut Saw," "The Hunter," "The Very Thought of You."
Catalog Choice: Live Wire/Blues Power
Next Stop: Freddie King: Let's Hide Away and Dance Away with Freddie King
After That: B.B. King: Lucille
Book Page: 425

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