WIB Listening Party #13: Born Under A Bad Sign


Albert King, Born Under A Bad Sign

🍺 Guinness Hop House 13 Lager

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

I bought Born Under A Bad Sign when I first started writing about the blues in the late 90s. It’s one of those quintessential albums you had to be familiar with if you were going to publish anything on the subject. Required listening, so to speak. Read any three guitar player interviews and one of them is bound to mention Albert King as an influence. Hendrix, Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan … if those guys idolized the big man from Mississippi and tried to copy his peculiar left-handed upside-down string-bending style, then there must be something there, right?

I like what self-proclaimed guitar nerd Joe Bonamassa had to say about King’s legacy on an episode of his Live From Nerdville video series: “[Albert] has been imitated many times – including by yours truly – but never quite duplicated, because his attack, his presence and the way he felt the music was completely new.”

The appeal of Born Under A Bad Sign begins with cover art that is among the coolest in the blues’ long history. The color scheme, the placement of the ace of spades, snake eyes and other bad luck symbolism, even the iconic Stax Records logo tucked into the lower left corner – all very striking. It reminds me of some psychedelic 1960s wallpaper … one you wouldn’t want hanging in your room if you were on a bad trip.

The album collects 11 tracks recorded in 1966 and 1967, many of them running less than three minutes (!!) … starting with the title song, dating to May of ’67 and played countless times by well-intentioned blues bands the world over in the half-century since. Frankly, it’s a challenge to listen to an LP with fresh ears when so many of its tunes have been covered to death – though it speaks volumes about the quality of the material.

Perhaps a bit of barley broth will help get us there! Guinness Hop House 13 Lager was an obvious choice for Listening Party #13, what with the bold red number 13 on the label echoing the calendar page on the cover of Bad Sign.

That’s a lot of 13 gathered in one place. Bad juju?

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