Playing an upside down Gibson Flying V, Albert King set about turning everything you thought you knew about the blues, about rock, and certainly about the left-handed guitarist himself on its head with this stunning Stax release.
You could say Born Under a Bad Sign — set for deluxe reissue on April 2, 2013 as part of the Stax Remasters Series — revitalized the blues, which was rapidly being overtaken by psychedelia, fusion and the first flowerings of funk, and you wouldn’t be wrong. There’s no argument, either, that King’s tone and attack also changed the course of what we now call classic rock — impacting players across a line that included Jimi Hendrix, the Band’s Robbie Robertson and Eric Clapton, among many others.
What it did for Albert King himself might just be the most amazing thing of all. Though he appears here alongside some of the best hired hands in all of the land — Booker T. and the MGs, the Memphis Horns, Isaac Hayes — King’s ascent from knock-around blues guy to Rock and Roll Hall of Famer couldn’t have been a bigger surprise.
King had actually made his debut some 15 years before, having earlier appeared (at the drums!) on Jimmy Reed’s initial recordings for Vee-Jay. But nothing much became of that. In fact, it wasn’t until 1961’s No. 14 R&B hit “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong,” issued by the fortuitously named King label out of Cincinnati, that Albert received any national attention. That momentum, however, had completely dissipated by the time King was signed to Stax in 1966.
Anyone could be forgiven for doubting much would become of it, as King set about issuing a series of singles — that is, until you hear a lightning-bolt moment here called “Crosscut Saw.” Ultimately, those tracks would be combined with five new offerings recorded in 1967 to make up the original running order of Born Under a Bad Sign, a record that sounds as groundbreaking, vital and utterly cool today as it ever did back then.
Burgeoning legends like Booker T. Jones, David Porter and William Bell had begun composing with King in mind, beginning with the muscled cries of the title track here and its B-side, the fonky, fonky “Personal Manager.” The album version of the latter is reborn with a thrillingly extended solo, originally edited for space on the old 45. Also included on this new reissue are a handful of previously unreleased alternate tracks like “Crosscut Saw” (featuring an extra chorus), “The Hunter,” “Personal Manager,” the title track and a frankly relentless untitled instrumental.
Lest there arise any misconception about King’s abilities across a broad spectrum of emotion, Born Under a Bad Sign also includes a gnawingly poignant rendition of “I Almost Lost My Mind,” from Ivory Joe Turner. King closes with another offbeat choice, the Ray Noble songbook standard “The Very Thought of You” — crooning with a raw regalness before happily admonishing saxophonist Andrew Love, before his solo, to “play it pretty.”
For all of the scalding things that came before, that King could do that — could play it so hard and then again so pretty — speaks to the sweeping talent that was always there. It took the right moment, the right mixture, for it to bubble up. Thankfully, Born Under a Bad Sign got the recipe just right.
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