Stax knows when it’s time to remaster and reissue special moments in their catalog. The problem with that is an album as highly esteemed as Born Under a Bad Sign is, should never be reissued. It never should go out of print in the first place. Albert King has many crowns in the land of the blues, and he’s earned every single one of them, including his recent posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… hence the latest reissue of King’s heaviest and toughest moment of his career. Born Under a Bad Sign has the formulaic trifecta of the best session players (Booker T & the MG’s and the Memphis Horns AND Issac Hayes), incredible material (the title track, “Crosscut Saw”, and “The Hunter” are all cream-of-the-crop blues songs), and the wisely understated guitar and vocals of King himself. If that wasn’t enough, this latest reissue signs us up for the bonus plan, dropping tasty unreleased goodies on our plates just in time for the greatest of all American traditions… backyard barbecue season.
To fully explain the impact this one album has had on the world of pop music, one must go to merry-old England for starters. Bad Sign was already a hit in the south with predominantly black audiences, but a couple of caucasian blues proteges across the pond would record the interpretations of King’s songs soon after that forever engraved the album a place in the annals of music history. Cream’s version of “Bad Sign” is still regarded as seminal ‘invasion’ material. Led Zeppelin’s paraphrased plagiarism of “The Hunter” on “How Many More Times” from Zep 1 has never lost its popularity on rock radio, 43 years after it’s initial release. “Crosscut Saw” is actually a cover version of Tommy McClennan’s “Cross Cut Saw Blues”, but it is King’s take on it that inspired so many versions after his, including renditions from Eric Clapton, Earl Hooker, Lonnie Brooks, and R.L. Burnside. Add to that the fire of “Oh, Pretty Woman” (NOT the Roy Orbison song), “Down Don’t Bother Me”, and “Laundromat Blues”, and you have one of the most listenable and listened to blues records of all time.
The bonus tracks on the newly-remastered Born Under a Bad Sign are of the usual variety, unreleased alternate takes of the album’s biggest hits. But, from the historical aspect, these alternate takes are mostly first takes... showing incomparable technique and camaraderie within the group of musicians from the word ‘go’. The only oddball within these extras is an untitled instrumental, but what an inclusion! Booker T and the MG’s never sounded better, even on a one-off jam that was never supposed to be issued. If there’s more unearthing to be done from these sessions at a later time, I applaud Stax for spoon-feeding them to us. I’ll happily buy every reissue in the future, as long as it comes with more bonus tracks. I don’t think I’m alone in this conviction.
Music collectors of all ages who appreciate timeless music of all varieties more than likely have a copy of Born Under a Bad Sign in their collection. The inclusion of bonus material worthy of release further compels the re-purchase, if previously owned. In other words, it’s a must-have for all serious music appreciators, pop-culture historians, and British Invasion fans who never followed the genealogical roots of their rock heroes (and those that did, too). It’s one of the greatest period recordings of Memphis’ heyday, and will always strike a chord with musicians striving to play something real. Bad Sign is as real as it gets.
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