Friday, October 24, 2008


I have just come back from a wonderful week in the English countryside. When not listening to 60's compilation CDs and playing "name that tune" with my good wife and a charming Englishman named Ned, I was working through some forgotten corners of my iPod. While doing this, I reconnected with a great blues album by Albert King.

Albert King was born in Indianola, Mississippi on April 24, 1923. He sang in a gospel choir as a child and taught himself to play a homemade guitar. He played drums behind Jimmy Reed before been signed to Bobbin Records by Little Milton. His first hit was Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong, which got to number 14 on the R&B chart in 1961. After that he signed with Stax Records.

Born Under a Bad Sign was recorded in 1966 and 1967 and was released on Stax Records in 1967. Backed by the Stax house band that included Steve Cropper on guitar, Booker T. Jones on piano, Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass, Al Jackson Jr on drums, Isaac Hayes on piano, and the Memphis Horns, Albert made one of the classic straight ahead blues albums of all time. Each song is a concise expression of the blues that showcases King's music and guitar technique. There is no filler or fluff on this disk.

Although B.B. King is probably the best known of the Three Kings (B.B., Albert and Freddy), Albert's guitar influenced many important players including Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, Jimi Hendrix and later Stevie Ray Vaughan. His technique was unusual because he was left-handed but played a right-handed guitar upside down.

The album kicks off with the blues classic and King signature tune, Born Under a Bad Sign. Listen to King's guitar and you can immediately hear his influence on Eric Clapton's playing from that period. In fact, Clapton has mentioned King as a major influence on his work with Cream. They covered the song along with many others including Paul Butterfield Band, Jack Bruce, Booker T. & the M.G.'s among others.

The next song up is Crosscut Saw, which has always been one of my favorite blues tunes. It is what what the blues is all about. Listen to King growl :

I'm a crosscut saw
Baby, drag me across your log
I'm a crosscut saw
I cut your wood so easy for you
You can't help but say Hot Dog

King gives a nice reading to the Leiber and Stoller classic Kansas City with help from the Memphis Horns. He also excels on the clever Personal Manager. In fact, there is not a bad cut on the album.

I was lucky to see Albert play in Boston in the late '80's. I was visiting Bob Cat Numero Uno who was living there at the time. We went to the show and liked it so much we went back again the next night. (Even having Ronald McD in tow couldn't spoil the experience) I will never forget the size of the man (Large!) or his work with the trademark Gibson Flying V guitar that he called Lucy. I feel fortunate to have seen this legend before he died at the age of 67 in 1992.

If you like the blues, this is a must album for your playlist. Available on iTunes and from Amazon.


Post a Comment