Cream – Born Under A Bad Sign

When I first started to listen to Cream, what stood out was not Clapton’s guitar or Baker’s drumming…no it was Jack Bruce’s bass. There are three bass players I listened to while starting out playing. John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, and Paul McCartney.  Those three covered the chaotic, the sliding, and melodic. Jack Bruce had all of these traits.

Cream recorded this and released it on their 1968 album Wheels Of Fire. It was written by Booker T Jones and William Bell for Albert King. King released it on his first Stax album Born Under A Bad Sign in 1967. Clapton stuck close to King’s guitar style on this song.

The Wheels of Fire album peaked at #1 in the Billboard Album Charts, #1 in Canada, and #3 in the UK in 1968.

Cream played this when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 12, 1993, in tribute to Albert King, who died the previous year. It was one of two times the band has played together since they broke up in 1968. The first time was at Clapton’s wedding in 1979…three Beatles also played together at his wedding.

Booker T Jones: “My recollection is that we wrote it in my den, late the night before the session. We had been trying to come up with something for Albert. He was coming to town and it was the last opportunity we had to write a song. But you know, now that I think of it, the fact that the song was in D flat, there is definitely an Indiana influence because, you know, a blues song in d flat? I tell you, I learned the value of flat keys and sharp keys and how to use them for emotional value so I could have more range and capacity for touching the human heart. I think that was one of the reasons that song became as huge as it did. Because it was in D flat.”

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”

From Songfacts

When Albert King signed with Stax Records in Memphis, Booker T. Jones, who was a member of the Stax house band Booker T. & The MGs, was assigned his producer. In an interview with National Public Radio (NPR), Jones explained: “At that time, my writing partner was William Bell. He came over to my house the night before the session. William wrote the words and I wrote the music in my den that night. That was one of my greatest moments in the studio as far as being thrilled with a piece of music. The feeling of it, it’s the real blues done by the real people. It was Albert King from East St. Louis, the left-handed guitar player who was just one of a kind and so electric and so intense and so serious about his music. He just lost himself in the music. He’s such a one of a kind character. I was there in the middle of it and it was exhilarating.”

The “bad sign” is an astrology reference: if you’re “born under a bad sign,” it means the stars are aligned against you from birth. It was the song’s co-writer William Bell who came up with the title – he wanted to do a blues song about astrology.

Born Under A Bad Sign was Albert King’s first album released by Stax. It became King’s signature song, with the classic lyrics, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

The song harkens back to blues of the ’30s and ’40s which had similar lyrical content.

King was an American blues musician. Known for his size (6′ 4″, 250 pounds) and custom-made, left-handed Gibson guitar, he died in 1992.

 Their guitarist, Eric Clapton, idolized American blues artists and often performed their songs. It marked a change of guitar style for Clapton, who adopted a harder, attacking style on this song in place of the sweeter, sustaining notes he called “woman tone,” which were more apparent on Cream’s first two albums.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band played this at Woodstock in 1969. They went on Monday morning, two sets ahead of Jimi Hendrix.

Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles, recorded an instrumental cover in 1969 as a tribute to King. 

This song’s lyricist William Bell performed it at the Grammy Awards in 2017 with Gary Clark Jr. “When you spend your life making music, you were born under a good sign, Bell said when they finished the song.” Bell won the award for Best Americana Album.

Janis Joplin’s guitarist Sam Andrew borrowed the riff for Big Brother & The Holding Company’s song “I Need A Man To Love.”

Christian posted this video in the comments…I thought I would add it…

Born Under A Bad Sign

Born under a bad sign
Been down since I begin to crawl
If it wasn’t for bad luck
You know I wouldn’t have no luck at all

Hard luck and trouble is my only friend
I’ve been on my own ever since I was ten
Born under a bad sign
Been down since I begin to crawl
If it wasn’t for bad luck
You know I wouldn’t have no luck at all

I can’t read, haven’t learned how to write
My whole life has been one big fight
Born under a bad sign
I been down since I begin to crawl
If it wasn’t for bad luck
I say I wouldn’t have no luck at all

I ain’t no lyin’

You know if it wasn’t for bad luck
I wouldn’t have no kinda luck
If it wasn’t for real bad luck
I wouldn’t have no luck at all

You know, wine and women is all I crave
A big-legged woman is gonna carry me to my grave
Born under a bad sign
I been down since I begin to crawl
If it wasn’t for bad luck
I tell I wouldn’t have no luck at all

Yeah, my bad luck boy
Been havin’ bad luck all of my days, yes

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

26 thoughts on “Cream – Born Under A Bad Sign”

  1. The original sounds fabulous. I also like how Cream tightened it up. Jack Bruce had me looking at bass players with new eyes. Seems like in blues and rock and roll the bass takes a back seat on stage, but with Jack not only was he seen and heard, but the man was singing lead vocal. Cream left behind a lasting legacy. I sing this song sometimes when either I am feeling blue or hear about some misfortune of another.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yea…Jack Bruce was a great great bass player… it’s funny… when I think of great bass playing…I think of Crossroads for Jack, The Real Me with Entwistle, and ironically… Something for Paul.
      The three just amaze me.
      Cream…I wish they would have made a couple of more albums….but after reading that book…Clapton gets bored quickly.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I didn’t know anything about the origins of the song, so that was interesting. No one can (or should) doubt the talent of all three of them in Cream, but to my ears, the total was less than the sum of the parts… the songs were OK but not really that memorable by and large, with a few exceptions like ‘Badge’. Just my opinion. It’s perhaps surprising that Jack bruce didn’t go on to greater success later like Clapton did, as you suggest he had the talent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like White Room, Strange Brew, and there are a few. Live is when they really shined Dave. They were like a bomb going off…not their reunion but when they were young. If you listened to each insturment they are going off…but still together.
      I think Jack Bruce stayed with more of a jazz-blues music…Clapton would go pop or pop rock.

      Like

  3. Wow, Max, you’re on a blues roll lately and I love it. “Born Under a Bad Sign” is just an awesome tune!

    Also, “If it wasn’t for bad luck/You know I wouldn’t have no luck at all” are two of the best blues lines I know.

    In addition to Cream’s version, I dig that Albert King clip you posted.

    Also, have you ever watched this clip of Booker T Jones demoing the Hammond, during which he also plays “Born Under a Bad Sign” The song starts at around 8:40 minutes.

    It’s also a perfect example to watch a music artist who clearly gets so much joy from playing his instrument. I watch this and I want a Hammond – so badly! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I dive into something…I dive lol. I had NO clue Booker T helped write this song.

      This video is awesome…love Booker T….you can tell he lives and breathes music….if he would have been an accountant he still would have played.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. If you get a chance, watch the video of the last concert at Royal Albert Hall. Bruce is clearly having trouble standing up and uses a stool, but man the guy can play that bass and sing his butt off. My favorite Clapton tune from that era, Bad Sign, White Room and Crossroads. I saw them live in 68 and couldn’t believe how much sound came out of 3 pieces. Loud but enthralling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I’ve seen this one…that was when he was having liver problems after a transplant.
      Again Phil…I’m jealous…I heard they were super loud at that time. Only one thing bugged me about the reunion…Clapton should have played his SG instead of a Fender….I know thats a little thing but I like the SG’s fat sound.

      Like

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