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Hello. Come on in. The daddy writes about current events, literature, music and, once in a while, drops something on you from back in the day to make you pause and ponder, stop and stare, and begin to wonder. Who knows? You may start to pace the floor, shake your head from side to side, then fall down on bended knees in a praying position and cry, "Lawd, have mercy! What is this world coming to?" Check yourself! But this blog is NOT about the daddy. It's about you: your boos, your fam, your hood, your country...our hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. So let's make a pact: the daddy will put it on the track if you'll chase it down and hit him back. Together, we can definitely take it to another level. Shall we?"

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Albert King, the Blues, and Rock & Roll, Part II

"King was also the first major blues guitarist to cross over into modem soul; his mid- and late 1960s recordings for the Stax label, cut with the same great session musicians who played on the recordings of Otis Redding, Sam & Dave,Eddie Floyd, and others, appealed to his established black audience while broadening his appeal with rock fans. Along with B.B. King (no relation, though at times Albert suggested otherwise) and Muddy Waters, King helped nurture a white interest in blues when the music needed it most to survive."
--All About Jazz

"Albert King could blow Eddie Van Halen away with his amp on
stand-by."
-- Joe Walsh speaking at Albert King's funeral

So the blues, as it was played on the chitlin circuit by African Americans, was in danger of being surpassed by rock & roll and relegated to a mere note in musical history. Bands associated with the drug scene and San Francisco such as the Jefferson Airplanes, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, plus bands from foreign shores like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Burton and the
Animals combined to put the blues on the ropes and
down for the cou
nt.

Stax Records
When Albert King walked into Stax
records, he had a number of things going for him. He had experience playing with all types of musicians. He had experience recording in the studio. He was in a place under the control of black management, which meant that King could record the music he liked and the way he wanted, and not commercial music pushed by white marketers. Most of all, he had at his beck and call, some of the most talented studio musicians: Isaac Hayes, who would become a legendary R&B phenomenon, Booker T Jones of Booker T and the MGS fame (Remember the song "Green onions?"), He was a good organist/pianist who coordinated the music in the studio; Steve Cropper, a fantastic rhythm guitarists, Duck Dunn, an inventive bass player, the Memphis Horns, three guys who could blow their assesses off and another group of good young musicians called The Bar
Kays.

In the making of his first album with Stax, “Born Under
a Bad Sign,” the studio talent at Stax and the experience
and the deceptively effective voice and soulful guitar
soloing of King came together. All the studio musicians knew that Albert brought something special to the studio—a strong feel for the blues based on experience. They all knew that he had something special: what blues great Little Walter calls “blues with a feeling;” and he could effectively communicate that feeling in the studio and on record. “Born Under a Bad Sign” represented a union between the old blues from the chitlin circuit with a hip R&B style that was being played on black radio stations by some of the top studio and performing musicians at the time. Thus the songs “Born Under a Bad
Sign,” “Crossc
ut Saw,”and “Pretty Woman” contained
uptempo, R&B
arrangements yet the strong blues feel in Albert's deep, soulful voice and gut-bucket guitar sound.

For rock guitarists especially, “Born Under a Bad Sign” represented teachable moments in time. On the song “Personal Manager” Albert’s showed rockers how to build on a solo, and not just start out screaming. He showed them how to build passion with less notes and more control of the instrument. His solo on the tune “Personal Manager,” where he plays the basic melody before soaring high on the guitar register taking blues lovers to musical heaven, was copied whole by Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Joe Walsh, Stevie Ray Vaughn and other rockers.

But to the daddy’s mind, the tune “As the Years Go Passing By” is the best. Combining an almost crying voice with a nodding“Amen” and “ I hear you” from his flying V guitar, this song represents the best in music as art: as controlled emotions concentrated in time, as music played not from notes so much as from the heart. And more than 40 years later, “As the Years Go Passing By” is still played by blues musicians, especially in black blues bars.

“Born Under a Bad Sign” did something else: It demonstrated conclusively that blues can not only be sad but exciting and soulful as well. You can moan and croon with Albert on “As the Years Go Passing By” or rock and nod your head to “Pretty Woman,” “Born Under a Bad Sign,” or “Kansas City.”

Songs from this album was played on black radio stations, FM and progressive stations everywhere. Based on the strength of this album, Albert began touring all over the country, indeed, all over the world. The album resurrected the blues by bringing it into the soul era without sacrificing its essence.

Albert Spoke the truth

Albert went on to make other quality albums for Stax: “Live Wire Blues Power," “I Wanna Get Funky,” “I’ll Play the Blues for You,” “San Francisco,” and “I’m in a Phone Booth,” “The Blues Don’t Change,” among others. All retained a strong blues feel, including strong social content. Listen to “Born Under a Bad Sign,” the signature song of the album:

I can’t read.
I didn't learn how to write.
My whole life has been

One big fight.
Born unde
r a bad sign.
Been down ever since I began to crawl.

If it wasn’t for bad luck
I wouldn’t have no luck at all.


Listen to “Angel of Mercy.”

They cut the lights off this morning.
Threw my furniture outdoors.
I heard on the new tdoay
It's gonna come a rain snow.
I got the pneumonia.
My daughter’s got the flu.
My whole family’s got malnutrition.
I don’t know what I’m gonna d
o.
I cry “Angel of mercy,
Mercy, look down on me.

Listen to "That's what the blues is."

I went out in my backyard
And whistled for my dog.

You know he ran back under the house, people
Like he didn’t know me at all.

Hadn’t fed him for a few days.
He was looking kind of thin.
Ah, when your dog turns his back on you, buddy,
You don’t even have a friend.


Above all, listen to “Little Brother, Make A Way," Albert’s personal plea to younger African Americans:

You know I had to work everyday.
On my job I didn’t get much pay.
Had to yessuh to the other man.
I was too confused to understand.

I had to do things, yeah, against my will.
If I hadn’t, little brother,
you wouldn’t have lived.
Take it on, little brother.

Take it further.

I said take it on, little brother

And make a way.

Now you got the future in your hands.
Don’t you be no lazy man.

We laid the ground and paved the way for you.
Come on and show us that you’re proud o
f us.
You have it hard trying to get through.

But keep on pushing.
We’re right behind you.
Take it on, little brother.

Take it further.

I said take it on, little brother
And make a way.

By updating the blues without changing its essence, Albert rescued the blues from rock & roll, its derivative, and from historical obscurity. But Albert did more: In both approach and content, he left footsteps on the road of freedom for you to follow. All you have to do is pick up a copy of “Born Under a Bad Sign” and let a blues master play the blues for you.

15 comments:

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Wow. Great posts Mac.
Forgot about that album. Must have been around '67. Around the same time Muddy came out with his album where he was wearing that long white robe. He seemed nothing short of a god to my sniveling young teen eyes.
I don't even know back then if someone had asked me "what's the blues?" I could have told them, but I sure do remember loving those albums along with guys like Paul Butterfield, Beck, CCR, and many other white boys who would hit a blues lick that always caught my attention.
I also remember an album called "Super Session" with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. . . there were all sorts of other session players on it. It dripped blues.
Man I was one sad little kid to love and relate to the blues like I did.

MacDaddy said...

sagacious: I think it was great to be exposed to good music. Guys like Beck and Bloomfield became totally immersed in the blues. For them, it was no fad or music to play to impress the girls. I've listened to a couple of his albums, when he had gotten older; and you could tell he had the real feel for the music. That probably came from sitting in with people like Muddy Waters and hanging out and playing with Big Joe Williams, another great guitarists...sounds like you got a good musical education.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to musical education, you're a master teacher! Too bad you can't imbed a tune or two for us to listen to. But I'll check it out - you got me turned on and tuned in.

rainywalker said...

daddyBstrong,
Thank you for having a site where I can go without my stress level rising. LOL.

Anonymous said...

You said he influenced all these white guys. Did he influence any black musicians?

Anonymous said...

SORRY BUT... nowhere to comment on your SIDEBAR!

Love the guy but....OBAMA HAS TO STOP talking in such an intellectual, adlai stephensonesque manner!! He disagrees with Gen Wesley Clark's comments on McCain's experience and he characterizes his statement as "inartful," Puhleeeeeze! What does the average american know from "inartful"? Plays right into the the (alleged) "straight-talker's" hand. He'll have fun with that one. One thing McCain is ok at is self-deprecating humor.

MacDaddy said...

anon: Yes, I'm working on putting a video with my posts. Meanwhile, hopefully, my posts will motivate readers to check out these artists on their own... we're very fortunate live at a time when, with a few clicks on our computer, we can access great musicians like Albert King in a flash.
anon: You asked if Albert King influenced any black musicians. I was focusing on Albert King's influence on music in the 60's. But the answer is yes. I mentioned Jimi Hendrix, but a lot of very black blues guitarists were influenced by him and covered his songs. They're just lesser known.

To be honest, white record companies and record producers were so obsessed with promoting whites who played the blues that they ignored a lot of these musicians, or didn't record them or promote them like they should have: Guitarists like Jimmie Dawkins, Otis Rush, Luther Allison, Mighty Joe Young, Magic Sam, Sammy Lawhorn-- all deserved to be given more attention. Recently, a number of female guitarists, black and white, have gotten very good, and now they, too, are being ignored passed over in favor of male guitarists (e.g. Deborah Coleman). I intend to do a post on this soon. Thanks for the question.

MacDaddy said...

anon: You mentioned that Obama sounds too intellectual. You may be right. I also think we may see Obama as being so intellectual because for seven years we've had a president who has been so-- shall we say-- "incurious."

Seriously, I accept Obama for who he is--an intellectual. Though he did some organizing, I know he was a smart law student. He's a an author; and he was a law professor for 12 years at the University of Chicago... It's interesting. When John Kennedy ran for president, Americans had concerns about him as a Catholic but little, if any, concerns about him as an intellectual; and Kennedy spoke in lofty terms as well. And when he became president, reporters, journalist and political pundits spoke proudly of him as one of our smartest presidents.

I think it would be refreshing to have a president who's smart, analytical...who knows and respects the constitution.

MacDaddy said...

anon: I forgot to mention that I respect Gen. Clark for sticking to his statement about McCain. I also think he would be a great V.P. I think he would not go for sending us into a war unless it was our last resort, and he would look out for our troops, something neither Bush or Cheney has done.

blackwomenblowthetrumpet.blogspot.com said...

Hey there!

This is absolutely fantastic!

You are blowing me away....

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!
Lisa

MacDaddy said...

Lisa: Thanks. By the way, I love those photos of Africa on the sidebar of your blog. I'll be back to look at them.

Anonymous said...

MacDaddy, Your critical analysis of the blues as art blows me away. This stuff should be compiled and published -- well, it is published here on your blog, but this is stuff that's important because it unpacks so much about culture, history, and the language of art.

Note to publishers perusing this blog: I think MacDaddy's critical analyses of the blues would make a meaningful contribution to the literature on art/ music in society.
Verna

MacDaddy said...

Verna: I know you've studied music and know a lot of this stuff already. So your kind words mean a lot. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The comments about "Obama being too intellectual" are so sad to me. Do you know what would happen if Obama suddenly STOPPED being who he is? What do we want him to do, stop reading and watching more trash TV? Started to "talk more common"? Pulleeezze. We would all think he was unstable and a lunatic, or minimally, pandering. Come on -- this is the same as criticizing someone for their hair or their clothes. Obama is who he is, and the rap about someone being "too intellectual" is more about the criticizer than the criticized. It's a VERY COMMON PLOY IN EVERY JUNIOR HIGH AROUND -- the "geek" or the "nerd" is hated because he/she is smarter than other students. Americans are uncomfortable knowing a BLACK MAN can be as "intellectual" as Obama. In other words, this smacks of racism.

Let the man be who he is -- I personally WANT someone who is smarter than I am to be leading this country. It would be a refreshing change!!!!

EveNotes said...

Okay Daddy, You got my attention with Part I, but Part II is even more enlightening about Albert King who happens to be my most favorite blues artist. Yes, I remember Green Onions...smiles. My favorite song by Albert King is called, "That's All". By the way, thanks for the new word, "assesses" in referring to the Memphis Horns. You have a knack for knowing how to get your message through without being offensive and continue to be a wealth of knowledge and history about the blues. Thanks again for these wonderful pieces on Albert King.