1. #1
    JarredMcAdams's Avatar Rocksmith Notetracker
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    BackTrack Spotlight: "Born Under a Bad Sign" by Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan



    Each week we showcase an existing song from our extensive Rocksmith song library on the weekly Twitch stream, in addition to the current week's offerings. We’ll announce the BackTrack here each Wednesday and offer some thoughts about the featured song.

    This week's BackTrack Spotlight comes from me, notetracker Jarred McAdams.

    Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan -- "Born Under a Bad Sign"
    Originally released as RS1 DLC on March 20, 2012
    Notetracked by Jarred McAdams
    All arrangements in E Standard Tuning



    Blues legend Albert King recorded the definitive version of “Born Under a Bad Sign” in 1967. King was a particularly idiosyncratic guitar player. He was a lefty, and strung his guitar with the thinnest string on top (à la Jimi Hendrix). He played with his thumb and fingers instead of a pick, and he used an unconventional open C#m7 chord tuning (C#-G#-B-E-G#-C#), which he kept secret for years to thwart imitators.

    The recording of “Born under a Bad Sign” used in Rocksmith comes from a 1983 broadcast called In Session—a live, in-studio performance for television. It was suggested that King pair up with a young guitarist from Texas named Stevie Ray Vaughan. At first, King balked, until he realized that this was the same “Little Stevie” he had let sit in at Texas show years before. The show went forward with the two of them.

    “Born Under a Bad Sign” marks a shift to a more modern incarnation of the Blues—one that developed as Rock & Roll became the dominant force in American music. The Blues is commonly based around a particular chord progression known as the 12-Bar Blues:

    | I - - - | IV - - - | I - - - | I - - - |
    | IV- - - | IV - - - | I - - - | I - - - |
    | V - - - | IV - - - | I - - - | V - - - |

    It’s an incredibly versatile and flexible structure. Chords can be substituted or altered, or the turnaround (the final part right before the pattern repeats) can be embellished or simplified. But this basic sequence is ubiquitous in Blues, jazz, and early Rock & Roll, and continues to be recycled again and again right up to the present day. In “Born Under a Bad Sign,” however, the form is just about as stripped down as it can possibly be:

    | I - - - | I - - - | I - - - | I - - - |
    | I - - - | I - - - | I - - - | I - - - |
    | V - - - | IV- - - | I - - - | I - - - |

    The song stays on the I chord through the verse and the first half of the chorus, not changing chords until we get to the memorable lyric, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.” The only thing that clues us in that this is in fact a 12-bar blues is the V-IV-I movement at the end (and, of course, the number of bars).

    All those bars of the I chord are driven by an almost hypnotic bass vamp. The line rises and falls, usually doubled by Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar. Meanwhile, Albert King sings some classic blues lyrics (“A big-legged woman gonna carry me to my gave”) over this line, punctuating each lyric with a guitar lick, up until the solos when King and Vaughan get a chance to do their respective things (check out the video to see King pulling Stevie Ray back from the brink when he nearly launches into his first solo prematurely).

    Many legends, from Clapton to Hendrix to Simpson, have offered their own interpretations of “Born Under a Bad Sign.” How does yours sound?
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    JarredMcAdams's Avatar Rocksmith Notetracker
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    Be sure to tune into our weekly twitch stream to hear us play and discuss this song further. We'll get into more detail about the solos and what makes the blues scale tick.
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    zaxcv4321's Avatar Senior Member
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    My favorite song for years was Albert King's 1967 original version.
    Then I fell in love with the Jimi Hendrix instrumental cover.

    The King-SRV version is a nice addition to RS. For the SRV fans, it really shows how much SRV's style was influenced by Albert King.
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    MAng0r3's Avatar Senior Member
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    Originally Posted by JarredMcAdams Go to original post
    .... King was a particularly idiosyncratic guitar player. He was a lefty, and strung his guitar with the thinnest string on top (à la Jimi Hendrix).

    Nice one Jarred!!

    ''.....if it wasn't for bad luck i would have not have luck at all....'' sweet lyrics.


    I got quit some footage of Hendrix and i've not yet catch one we this inverted string thing......any particular footage i should see??
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    BazzTard61's Avatar Banned
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    thanks again Jarred for another insightful look at a great song.

    Mangor, my memory ain't so good, but I THINK he usually played with his Strat strung normally,but that he COULD play a right handed strung guitar upside down.
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    Ya I was going to comment on that too. I had always heard that Jimmy played upside down, but a couple of years ago I remember watching a documentery and could see that while he did have the guitar upside down he had it strung normally.
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    infocat1's Avatar Senior Member
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    RE: Jimi, how could be play the low-E with his thumb if the strings were upside down?
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    MAng0r3's Avatar Senior Member
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    Originally Posted by infocat1 Go to original post
    RE: Jimi, how could be play the low-E with his thumb if the strings were upside down?
    He's talking about strumming hand. Albert King didn't use picks.
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  9. #9
    I don't usually tune in for these backtrack sessions, but I wanna see this one.

    Got to see Buddy Guy and Ana Popovic perform last night, and the first thing I thought about afterwards was how under-represented the blues were in RS. So this stream is very timely to me!
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    JarredMcAdams's Avatar Rocksmith Notetracker
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    Originally Posted by BazzTard61 Go to original post
    Mangor, my memory ain't so good, but I THINK he usually played with his Strat strung normally,but that he COULD play a right handed strung guitar upside down.
    I believe this is correct. As I understand it, he was forced to learn the guitar right-handed when he was a kid, but didn't really care for it, so when no-one was looking, he'd flip the guitar around and play left-handed (with upside down strings). Later on he played the restrung right-handed guitar as a lefty, which is what you see him doing through most of his years of fame. But there are numerous stories of people handing him a guitar and him flipping it and playing it upside down even during that period. Apparently he could play it all four ways - righty or lefty, upside down strings or normal.

    Probably a good exercise, but not one I'm planning to work on any time soon.


    Originally Posted by MAng0r3 Go to original post
    Nice one Jarred!!

    ''.....if it wasn't for bad luck i would have not have luck at all....'' sweet lyrics.
    That is a great lyric, isn't it? It actually predates this song, although this is the one that really made it famous. The lyrics were written by a Stax a R&B singer named William Bell, who wanted to write something to reference the astrology fad going on at the time. The "if it wasn't for bad luck" line had been around at least since the fifties, and probably longer than that. Here's Lightnin' Slim with "Bad Luck Blues" from 1954:



    Also, one more quick piece of trivia - the music for "Born Under a Bad Sign" was written by Booker T. Jones, of Booker T. and the M.G.s.
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