Born Under a Bad Sign (song)

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"Born Under a Bad Sign"
Single by Albert King
from the album Born Under a Bad Sign
B-side "Personal Manager"
Released 1967 (1967)
Format 7" 45 rpm record
Recorded Stax Studios, Memphis, Tennessee May 17, 1967
Genre Blues
Length 2:44
Label Stax (cat. no. 217)
Writer(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 bass and guitar harmony line 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]

Original song[edit]

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. As Bell recalled in an interview:

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]

Bell's lyrics describe "hard luck and trouble" tempered by "wine and women", with wordplay in the chorus in the turnaround:

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]

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.

"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.

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).

Cream version[edit]

"Born Under a Bad Sign"
Song by Cream from the album Wheels of Fire
Released August 1968
Genre Blues rock, psychedelic rock, hard rock
Length 5:09
Label Polydor (UK)
Atco (US)
Producer Felix Pappalardi
Wheels of Fire track listing
"Those Were the Days"
(7)
"Born Under a Bad Sign"
(8)
"Deserted Cities of the Heart"
(9)
Music sample
Cream version from Wheels of Fire

British rock group Cream recorded "Born Under a Bad Sign" for the studio half of their third album, Wheels of Fire, released in 1968. According to an interview with Clapton by the BBC, Cream's record company, which also distributed Stax records, asked the group to record the song. Their rendition follows Albert King's, except for Jack Bruce combining two verses into "I've been down ever since I was ten" and an extended guitar solo by Eric Clapton.[7]

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[edit]

In 1988, Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign" was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in the "Classic of Blues Recording — Singles or Album Tracks" category calling 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".[8]

"Born Under a Bad Sign" has been recorded by many artists, including:[3] Blue Cheer, Paul Butterfield, Robben Ford, Jimi Hendrix, Etta James, MDC, Pappo, Paul Rodgers, Koko Taylor with Buddy Guy, Pat Travers, Big Mama Thornton, and cartoon character Homer Simpson. Co-writers William Bell (1969) and Booker T. Jones (1968) each recorded the song.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b O'Neal, Jim (1988). "Classic of Blues Recording - Singles or Album Tracks". Blues Foundation Hall of Fame — 1988 Inductees. The Blues Foundation. Retrieved July 4, 2013. 
  2. ^ Palmer, Robert (1981). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. p. 246. ISBN 0-14006-223-8. 
  3. ^ a b "Born Under a Bad Sign — Search Results". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved July 4, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b 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. Rovi Corp. Retrieved July 5, 2013. 
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Record Research, Inc. p. 238. ISBN 0-89820-068-7. 
  7. ^ One author called Clapton's playing "practically Albert King parodies". Palmer 1981, p. 246.
  8. ^ "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". Exhibit Highlights. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1995. Archived from the original on 1995. Retrieved July 4, 2013. 

External links[edit]