Saturday, April 6, 2013

REVIEW: Albert King - Born Under A Bad Sign Reissue (Stax Remasters)

Not all reissues suck. Born Under a Bad Sign is the antithesis of suck. It is a gem.  The Stax Remasters deluxe edition of  Born Under a Bad Sign was released on April 2 by Stax Records, a unit of the Concord Music Group. This was Albert King’s first album release after signing with Memphis-based Stax – the home of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Booker T and the MG’s, Eddie Floyd, King Curtis and (great fans of this blog) the Bar-Kays. Born Under a Bad Sign was produced by Booker T with the MG’s (Steve Cropper, Donald Duck Dunn, and Al Jackson , Jr.) and the Memphis Horns (Wayne Jackson, Andrew Love and Joe Arnold.) 

The track list includes the original 11 cuts plus 5 previously unreleased alternate takes.  

1. Born Under A Bad Sign
2. Crosscut Saw
3. Kansas City
4. Oh, Pretty Woman
5. Down Don’t Bother Me
6. The Hunter
7. I Almost Lost My Mind
8. Personal Manager
9. Laundromat Blues
10. As The Years Go Passing By
11. The Very Thought Of You
12. Born Under A Bad Sign (Alternate Take 1)
13. Crosscut Saw (Alternate Take 1)
14. The Hunter (Alternate Take 1)
15. Personal Manager (Alternate Take 15)
16. Untitled Instrumental

The album is a slice of time highlighting the very moment when an amalgam of soul, blues, rock and touring music reviews were changing the makeup of the mainstream American music scene. The music was embraced by a wider expanse of the public – no longer pigeonholed as “race records” or limited to live performances on the “Chitlin Circuit."  It was described by King Curtis as a "Soul Stew." In the early 60’s the Kings in my white bread life were The King Family Show and borscht belt comedian Alan King on the Ed Sullivan Show.  The “King Cousins” were a bevy of blond Mormons who were fodder for my adolescent lust and the caustic wit of Alan King provided one liners guaranteed to entertain classmates and torment adults for years to come.  Then popular culture changed fast – the period from 1964 to 1969 evolved more than any comparable period in my life.  The radio went from playing Pat Boone doing “Tutti Frutti” to  Little Richard singing his own song.  Suddenly there was a revolution (or do you call it evolution?) and the new Kings were B.B. , Freddie and Albert.

Albert King was my favorite.  His importance can judged by the guitarists he influenced -  Mick Taylor, Eric Clapton, Joe Walsh, Michael Bloomfield. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Derek Trucks.  All incorporate licks we first heard from Albert.  Joe Walsh who spoke at Albert’s funeral said, "There are a lot of hot guitar players out there today who can fly all over the fretboard in all kinds of amazing ways, like Eddie Van Halen. But Albert King could blow Eddie Van Halen off the stage...with his amp on standby!"  Eric Clapton slavishly pays homage to Albert in early recordings by Cream. Michael Bloomfield once famously asked Eric Clapton if he was paying royalties to Albert for the leads Eric played on “Born Under a Bad Sign” and “Strange Brew.”  Bloomfield said Albert was a master “who could say more with fewer notes than anyone I’ve ever known.”    Check the out the original and compare it to Eric’s tribute.

On the DVD about the making of Disraeli Gears, Clapton mentions how he agreed to do "Strange Brew" because even though it sounded like a pop tune, they let him play an Albert King-style solo over it instead of a pop solo. You can hear the original “Albert King-style” in King’s “Personal Manager. 

Stevie Ray Vaughan was an Albert King disciple who interspersed his playing with Albert’s signature double bends. Stevie said: "Albert is so nasty!"  Albert was left-handed and played his Flying guitar upside down and not restrung. This made it easier for him to play double bends.  He would pull the his highest string down to do a bend. Most guitar players, with the high E on the bottom, must bend end the string up.  Guitar tech god Dan Erlewine did a lot of work on Albert’s guitar  “Lucy.”   For those who want to play along at home, Dan said he tuned it to C-F-C-F-A-D with light gauge strings (.009”, .012”,  .024” wound, .028”, .038’ and .050.)

Buy this record here.  You should have it in its full sonic glory.  I have two vinyl copies. Neither can be played now without destroying the stylus on the turntable. I bought the first when the album came out in '67.  I heard the title track late at night on a pocket transistor radio on WDIA, 50,000 watts of AM clear channel blasting throughout the eastern US.  Then I bought it used from "one-armed John Rencher" – the penultimate Maxwell Street  harp player. He was in the Wednesday night house band when I bartended at Vegetable Buddies in South Bend, Indiana.  John took my blues education personally.  The first record he ever brought me was Albert King’s Born Under a Bad Sign. John was spot on.  Once again it is time for a replacement.

1 comment:

william said...