‘He’d never really had a lot of success’: A move to Stax finally sparked Albert King’s career

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By the time Albert King recorded his debut album for Stax, he was anything but the new kid on the block. In fact, the scorching blues guitarist had been around for ages, but somehow he’d never quite broken through.

That changed in the blink of an eye with his 1967 release Born Under a Bad Sign, which featured Booker T. and the MGs, the Memphis Horns and Isaac Hayes.

It was the shot heard ’round the blues, as King’s chunky, modern sound heralded a new era.

At the comparably old age of 44, and well past the time when many of his pre-rock contemporaries had been left behind by juggernauts like the Beatles, King suddenly had a string of hit singles on his hands. Previous to signing with Stax, he’d charted one lone Top 40 R&B single. Between 1966-68, he had five — while his song “Cold Feet” (which jokingly made hay out of King’s struggles to get played on the radio) even reached the pop charts.

“Albert King had been around for a long, long time,” the MGs’ Steve Cropper tells Bobby Whitlock on WBKM, “and he’d never really had a lot of success. He was a great blues player, without question — but we kind of took his blues, and made it commercial dance music. And then, along with that, we wrote some other blues songs, some new stuff.”

The title track, which was eventually covered by dozens of artists, was co-written by the MGs’ Booker T. Jones. Cropper and the rest of the MGs co-wrote “The Hunter.” Stax stalwarts William Bell and David Porter also worked on songs.

“We sort of turned his blues into more of a commercial format — I’ll put it that way,” Cropper adds. “We made it more playable for radio. Now, radio is different. They play all of the old guys’ stuff that was ever recorded, which is pretty cool. Even today, I still hear things that I never heard before.”

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