Born Under a Bad Sign (song)

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"Born Under a Bad Sign"
Born Under a Bad Sign single cover.jpg
Single by Albert King
from the album Born Under a Bad Sign
B-side "Personal Manager"
Released1967 (1967)
Format 7-inch 45 rpm record
RecordedMay 17, 1967
Studio Stax, Memphis, Tennessee
Genre Soul blues
Length2:44
Label Stax
Songwriter(s) Booker T. Jones, William Bell

"Born Under a Bad Sign" is a blues song recorded by American blues singer and guitarist Albert King in 1967. Called "a timeless staple of the blues", [1] the song also had strong crossover appeal to the rock audience with its synchronous bass and guitar lines and topical astrology reference. [2] "Born Under a Bad Sign" became an R&B chart hit for King and numerous blues and other musicians have made it perhaps the most recorded Albert King song. [3]

Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1870s by African Americans from roots in African musical traditions, African-American work songs, and spirituals. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. Blue notes, usually thirds, fifths or sevenths flattened in pitch are also an essential part of the sound. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and form a repetitive effect known as the groove.

Albert King American blues guitarist and singer

Albert Nelson, known by his stage name Albert King, was an American blues guitarist and singer whose playing influenced many other blues guitarists. He is perhaps best known for the popular and influential album Born Under a Bad Sign (1967) and its title track. He is one of the three performers known as the "Kings of the Blues."

Contents

Original song

The lyrics to "Born Under a Bad Sign" were written by Stax Records rhythm and blues singer William Bell with music by Stax bandleader Booker T. Jones (of Booker T. & the M.G.'s). Bell recalled, "We needed a blues song for Albert King ... I had this idea in the back of my mind that I was gonna do myself. Astrology and all that stuff was pretty big then. I got this idea that [it] might work." [4] The lyrics describe "hard luck and trouble" tempered by "wine and women", with wordplay in the chorus in the turnaround:

Stax Records is an American record label, originally based in Memphis, Tennessee. Founded in 1957 as Satellite Records, the label changed its name to Stax Records in 1961 and shared its operations with Volt Records, a sister label created to avoid the impression of favoritism among radio stations playing their records.

Rhythm and blues, commonly abbreviated as R&B, is a genre of popular music that originated in African American communities in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African Americans, at a time when "urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a heavy, insistent beat" was becoming more popular. In the commercial rhythm and blues music typical of the 1950s through the 1970s, the bands usually consisted of piano, one or two guitars, bass, drums, one or more saxophones, and sometimes background vocalists. R&B lyrical themes often encapsulate the African-American experience of pain and the quest for freedom and joy, as well as triumphs and failures in terms of relationships, economics, and aspirations.

William Bell (singer) singer

William Bell is an American soul singer and songwriter. As a performer, he is probably best known for his debut single, 1961's "You Don't Miss Your Water"; 1968's top 10 hit in the UK "Private Number", a duet with Judy Clay; and his only US top 40 hit, 1976's "Tryin' to Love Two", which also hit No. 1 on the R&B chart. Upon the death of Otis Redding, Bell released the well-received memorial song "A Tribute to a King".

Born under a bad sign, been down since I began to crawl
If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all

Similar lyrics are found in Lightnin' Slim's 1954 swamp blues song "Bad Luck Blues": [5]

Lightnin Slim American Louisiana blues musician

Otis Verries Hicks, known as Lightnin' Slim, was an American Louisiana blues musician, who recorded for Excello Records and played in a style similar to its other Louisiana artists. The blues critic ED Denson ranked him as one of the five great bluesmen of the 1950s, along with Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson.

Swamp blues is a type of Louisiana blues that developed around Baton Rouge in the 1950s and 1960s. It generally has a slow tempo and incorporates influences from other genres, particularly zydeco and Cajun. Its most successful proponents included Slim Harpo and Lightnin' Slim, who enjoyed national rhythm and blues hits and whose work was frequently covered by bands in the British Invasion.

Lord if it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all (2×)
You know bad luck has been followin' poor Lightnin', ever since I began to crawl
Now folks I was born in the last month of the year

Jones's arrangement for the song does not follow the typical twelve-bar blues I-IV-V progression. Rather, it is dominated by an R&B-style bass/rhythm guitar line, which Bell claimed that he came up with "while fooling around on the guitar". [4] Albert King provided his signature guitar fills around his vocals and solos during the break and outro, with backing by Booker T. & the M.G.'s and the Memphis Horns.

The twelve-bar blues is one of the most prominent chord progressions in popular music. The blues progression has a distinctive form in lyrics, phrase, chord structure, and duration. In its basic form, it is predominantly based on the I, IV, and V chords of a key.

The Memphis Horns were an American horn section made famous by their many appearances on Stax Records. They have been called "arguably the greatest soul horn section ever." Originally a sextet, the Memphis Horns gradually slimmed down to a duo, Wayne Jackson on trumpet and Andrew Love on tenor saxophone.

"Born Under a Bad Sign" became a Billboard R&B chart hit for King, reaching number 49. [6] It was later included on his first album for Stax, also titled Born Under a Bad Sign . The album's cover depicts images of "bad luck signs" or common superstitions, including a black cat, a Friday the 13th calendar page, skull and crossbones, ace of spades, and snake eyes. Subsequently, the song has appeared on numerous King and various artist collections.

<i>Born Under a Bad Sign</i> 1967 studio album by Albert King

Born Under a Bad Sign is the second studio album by Albert King, released in 1967. The album became "one of the most popular and influential blues albums of the late '60s" and has been acknowledged by the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone magazine.

Black cat domestic cat with black fur

A black cat is a domestic cat with black fur that may be a mixed or specific breed, or a common domestic cat of no particular breed. The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) recognizes 22 cat breeds that can come with solid black coats. The Bombay breed is exclusively black. All-black fur pigmentation is slightly more prevalent in male cats than female cats. Their high melanin pigment content causes most black cats to have yellow (golden) eyes (irises).

Friday the 13th Day in which the 13th of a month is on a Friday

Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day in Western superstition. It occurs when the 13th day of the month in the Gregorian calendar falls on a Friday, which happens at least once every year but can occur up to three times in the same year, for example in 2015, the 13th fell on a Friday in February, March, and November. In 2016, Friday the 13th occurred in May. In 2017, it occurred twice, in January and October. In 2018, it also occurred twice, in April and July. There will be two Friday the 13ths every year until 2020. The years 2021 and 2022 will have just one occurrence each.

Albert King recorded an updated version of "Born Under a Bad Sign" with producer Allen Toussaint for his 1978 New Orleans Heat album. Live versions are included on Wednesday Night in San Francisco , Chicago 1978, In Session with Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Godfather of the Blues: His Last European Tour 1992, and Talkin' Blues (see Albert King discography for album details).

Allen Toussaint American musician, composer and record producer

Allen Toussaint was an American musician, songwriter, arranger and record producer, who was an influential figure in New Orleans rhythm and blues from the 1950s to the end of the century, described as "one of popular music's great backroom figures". Many musicians recorded Toussaint's compositions, including "Java", "Mother-in-Law", "I Like It Like That", "Fortune Teller", "Ride Your Pony", "Get Out of My Life, Woman", "Working in the Coal Mine", "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky", "Here Come the Girls", "Yes We Can Can", "Play Something Sweet", and "Southern Nights". He was a producer for hundreds of recordings, among the best known of which are "Right Place, Wrong Time", by his longtime friend Dr. John, and "Lady Marmalade", by Labelle.

<i>Wednesday Night in San Francisco</i> 1990 live album by Albert King

Wednesday Night in San Francisco is a blues album by Albert King, recorded live in 1968 at the Fillmore Auditorium. This album, together with Thursday Night in San Francisco, contains leftovers recorded live on the same dates as Live Wire/Blues Power. Wednesday Night in San Francisco, released in 1990, contains material recorded on June 26, 1968.

<i>In Session</i> (Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan album) 1999 live album by Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan

In Session is a blues album by Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan recorded live for television on December 6, 1983, at CHCH-TV studios in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, when Vaughan was 29 and King was 60. It was released as an album on August 17, 1999 and re-released with a supplemental video recording on DVD on September 28, 2010. It has also been released on CD and SACD.

Cream version

"Born Under a Bad Sign"
Song by Cream
from the album Wheels of Fire
ReleasedAugust 9, 1968 (1968-08-09)
Genre Blues rock
Length3:09
Label
Songwriter(s) Booker T. Jones, William Bell
Producer(s) Felix Pappalardi

British rock group Cream recorded "Born Under a Bad Sign" for their third album, Wheels of Fire (1968). The group's record company, which also distributed Stax records, requested that they record it, according to guitarist Eric Clapton. Cream's rendition follows Albert King's, except for bassist and singer Jack Bruce combining two verses into "I've been down ever since I was ten" and an extended guitar solo by Clapton. Musicologist Robert Palmer described Clapton's playing as "practically Albert King parodies". [2]

Cream recorded a live version for the BBC October 24, 1967, which was released on BBC Sessions in 2003. Another live version was recorded during their reunion performances in 2005 and included on Royal Albert Hall London May 2-3-5-6, 2005 .

Recognition and influence

In 1988, Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign" was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. Writing for the Foundation, Jim O'Neal called it "one of the signature hits of Albert King that started to win the left-handed string-bender a crossover following in 1967, as he began to break out of the chittlin circuit to invade rock venues like the Fillmore". [1] King's song is also included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of the "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". [7] It has also been recorded by many artists in a variety of styles. [3]

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References

  1. 1 2 O'Neal, Jim (November 10, 2016). "1988 Hall of Fame Inductees: Born Under a Bad Sign – Albert King (Stax, 1967)". The Blues Foundation . Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  2. 1 2 Palmer, Robert (1982). Deep Blues. New York City: Penguin Books. p. 246. ISBN   0-14006-223-8.
  3. 1 2 "Born Under a Bad Sign – Also Performed By". AllMusic . Retrieved July 4, 2013.
  4. 1 2 Bowman, Rob (1997). Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records. Music Sales Group. pp. 126–127.
  5. Numerous blues songs share this title, but with different lyrics. "Bad Luck Blues – Search Results". AllMusic . Retrieved July 5, 2013.
  6. Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 238. ISBN   0-89820-068-7.
  7. "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . 1995. Archived from the original on 2007. Retrieved July 4, 2013.