I’m a crosscut saw
Just drag me ‘cross your log
You know, I’m a crosscut saw
Just drag me across your log
I cut your wood so easy for you
You can’t help but say ‘Hot dog!’
You have to love a good song about carpentry, don’t you? My current favourite is ‘Crosscut Saw’ by Albert King. Now I am aware that there are some folks out there, dirty mucky mean-minded folks, that claim that the whole tune is not a paean to the noble art of shaping wood but some kind of sexual innuendo. I know! Ridiculous, eh?
Some call me wood-choppin’ Sam
Some call me wood-cuttin’ Ben
Last girl I cut the wood for, you know
She wants me back again
And repeat business is the lifeblood of any skilled artisan, so good on Mr King for maintaining admirable customer relations; that’s just sound business practice in my view. Equally so the track ‘Personal Manager’, ‘If you sign my contract baby / You know all your worries is over for you’ – come on Albert, is this an album, or a management seminar?
When he wasn’t sawing wood for ladies Albert King cut a great LP on Stax in 1967 – Born Under A Bad Sign. I have lost count of how many times I have played this beastie recently*. I bought for two main reasons, firstly because of its’ brilliant cover and secondly I wanted to hear the original cut of ‘The Hunter’ which I knew from Free, which was where the whole Love Gun metaphor was originated.
Born Under A Bad Sign was made as an LP but it still feels like more of a collection of songs than a unit conceived as an artistic whole, which is where blues and R&B artists were lagging behind their rock and pop contemporaries by about a year in 1967. But what a collection of songs!
Kicking off with the title track Born Under A Bad Sign just oozes class from every pore; mind you even I would sound great backed by Booker T & The MG’s with the Memphis Horns. The sound is slick right from the get-go, foregrounding the horns and King’s laid back vocal. That’s fine, almost too polished for my plebian tastes but when King hits string, that’s when the magic happens. The Velvet Bulldozer** has a beautiful lightness of touch and an exemplary precision, those strings get bent like they never had before on LP.
‘Crosscut Saw’ follows with its’ rickety percussion, in your face guitar slinging and vox mixed way, way down. This time King really makes his guitar sing and you can hear a million slick 80’s blues slingers being born right there and then, but it isn’t his fault. A great swinging version of ‘Kansas City’ is up next and with the horns locked down into the groove it’s always a disappointment to me when it finishes.
Which is fine because that means that we get a glimmer of a meaner side of King breaking through on ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’. It’s a real driving blues too and is all the better for having a spoonful of spite stirred into the mix:
Oh pretty woman that’s all right for you
Now you just go on doing what you want to do
But someday when you thing you’ve got it made
You get in water deep enough so you can’t wade
When King solos on this track you can feel time stopping, out of sheer respect; sort of like when I type a blog post. Yup, he was that good.
Born Under A Bad Sign finishes Side 1 with the bristling, macho ‘The Hunter’, which is damnably brilliant and opens Side 2 with the smooth, sophisticated ‘I Almost Lost My MInd’, which is a great track and straddles the R&B soul border to the point where I could imagine it being sung by Isaac Hayes, augmenting Hot Buttered Soul maybe. ‘Personal Manager’ is a slower more down home affair which features the best guitar workout on the whole album, it’s far from being the best song here but the playing is just jaw-dropping. Really.
The album finishes on a slower tempo pair, the dramatic ‘As The Years Go Passing By’ a steamy contrite blues burner with a great end-of-the-evening-in-a-smoky-bar vibe which I love and the saccharine, crooning ‘The Very Thought of You’, which makes me heave somewhat^^. But there again, I’m a nasty sort.
Born Under A Bad Sign is a really entertaining album, I don’t blame Albert King for Robert Cray and 80’s Clapton – he wasn’t to know what ills his slickness would ultimately wreak. What is remarkable, even to an ignoramus such as I, is the Velvet Bulldozer’s touch and that wonderful feel for all the notes he doesn’t play, every bit as much as the ones he does. Add to that the fact that the backing is never less than stellar and this is a fine lovelorn, lusty good time, with some bonus woodworking.
I’ve got a double-bladed axe
That really cuts good
And I’m a crosscut saw, just bury me in the wood
I’m a crosscut saw,
Baby, just drag me ‘cross your log
I cut your wood so easy for you, woman
You can’t help but say ‘Hot dog!’
*that indicates a number >5.
**King was reportedly 6’7″ and 250lbs and drove a bulldozer^
^for work that it, presumably not from show to show, cool though that would be.
^^in fact I entertained myself during a meeting recently thinking about how the title could be improved with the addition of brackets. My three favourites so far are:
- The Very Thought of You (On my Knees, Retching)
- The Very Thought of You (Makes my Testicles Retract Back Into my Abdomen)
- The Very Thought of You (Reminds me Why I Keep a Knife Under my Pillow)