Any list of seminal 1960s electric blues albums is incomplete without Albert Kingâ€™s Born Under a Bad Sign positioned near the top. The Indianola, Mississippi-born â€œKing of the Blues Guitar,â€ who cut his professional teeth as a resident of the St. Louis suburb of Lovejoy, Ill., cemented his legacy with his Stax Records debut album. While heâ€™d recorded for labels like Vee-Jay, Parrot and Bobbin, it was his chemistry with the Stax team â€” label executives Al Bell, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, songwriters Booker T. Jones and William Bell, and backing from Booker T. & the MGs and the Memphis Horns â€” that put King on the blues map.
The Stax Remasters deluxe edition of Born Under a Bad Sign will be released by Stax Records, a unit of Concord Music Group, on April 2, 2013. Music historian Bill Dahl wrote the new set of liner notes.
King was influenced by pre-World War II bluesmen Lonnie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, and post-war artists T-Bone Walker and Howlinâ€™ Wolf. He came to Stax by way of Al Bell, a Little Rock native whoâ€™d met King when he played shows in the area. Kingâ€™s first Stax recording was â€œLaundromat Blues,â€ included on this album, backed by Booker T. Jones on piano; Duck Dunn, bass; and Al Jackson, Jr., drums; plus the Memphis Horns (Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love) and Raymond Hill (sax player on Jackie Brenstonâ€™s â€œRocket 88â€). The song had come by way of an unsolicited songwriting demo that Stax co-founder Estelle Axton correctly believed could be a hit for King.
â€œCrosscut Sawâ€ is one of Kingâ€™s best-known recordings as yet dated back to 1941 when Delta bluesman Tommy McClennan recorded it for Bluebird, and Willie Sanders & the Binghamton Boys cut it in â€™63. A.C. â€œMoohahâ€ Williams, a veteran DJ at Memphis R&B station WDIA-AM, brought it to Kingâ€™s attention.
Booker T. Jones and Stax soul singer William Bell came up with the thundering bass riff that defined the title track â€œBorn Under a Bad Sign.â€ The song notched #49 on the R&B chart in 1967, and was covered in short order by Cream on its 1968 Wheels of Fire album. Soon King himself was playing venues like the Fillmore Auditorium to young white rock audiences.
Another one of the signature tracks, â€œOh, Pretty Woman,â€ written by WDIA DJ Williams, required the steady presence of Steve Cropperâ€™s rhythm guitar to augment Kingâ€™s lead licks. King received songwriting help from David Porter, on leave from his usual collaboration with Isaac Hayes, on â€œPersonal Manager,â€ which was the B-side of the title track single.
Born Under a Bad Sign was also notable for its selection of covers. King gave the Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller R&B standard â€œKansas Cityâ€ an urban blues treatment. Heâ€™s right at home with Fenton Robinsonâ€™s â€œAs the Years Go Passing By.â€ Ivory Joe Hunterâ€™s â€œI Almost Lost My Mindâ€ is a rare King ballad with countrypolitan overtones and jazz flute, an unlikely showcase for his rich baritone.
For this special reissue Stax Records has reached into its vaults to provide previously unissued bonus tracks in the form of alternate takes of â€œBorn Under a Bad Sign,â€ â€œCrosscut Saw,â€ â€œThe Hunter,â€ â€œPersonal Managerâ€ and an untitled, never-before-released instrumental.
According to annotator Dahl, â€œThanks to Born Under a Bad Sign, Albert King became a full-fledged blues luminary, masterfully bridging the gap between the Chitlinâ€™ Circuit and the rock arena. He would make more great Stax albums, but heâ€™d never top this one.â€
Albert King will be posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on April 18, 2013.