Albert King? Booker T. Jones? wilhelm Bell? dick Gregory? E. K. Means? Sidney Sutherland? Sidney Skolsky? bill Brisson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A famous blues song from the 1960s consists of the following memorable lament:

If it wasn’t for poor luck, i wouldn’t have actually no luck at all.

You are watching: If it weren t for bad luck

How old is this mordant quip? would you please check out its history?

Quote Investigator: This speak is challenging to trace since it have the right to be express in plenty of ways. The earliest enhance located by QI occurred in a quick story titled “At the finish of the Rope” through E. K. Means (Eldred Kurtz Means) released in “Munsey’s Magazine” of new York in 1927. The tale was part of a collection set in the fictional small town that Tickfall. The following passage employed nonstandard spelling. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“It wus a negative time for me once I involved Tickfall. I’m coast had poor luck; yet ef dar warn’t no poor luck, i wouldn’t hab no luck in ~ all.”

Below are extr selected citations in chronological order.

In 1928 E. K. Way used the quip again in the story “One sort Deed” published in “Munsey’s Magazine”: 2

“I wus always kind the stand-offish wid him, since he appeared to hab every de good luck dar wus,” Skeeter said. “Now, wid me, ef dar warn’t no bad luck, i wouldn’t hab no luck at all …”

In 1930 Sidney Skolsky creating in the “Daily News” of new York credited an additional journalist: 3

Credit Sidney Sutherland, function writer because that Liberty, through this glowing saying: “I’m favor the gambler. If the wasn’t for bad luck ns wouldn’t have any kind of luck in ~ all.”

In 1947 a columnist in Rochester, brand-new York attributed the saying to his friend called Bill Brisson of Monroe, Louisiana who owned a property which burned down: 4

“It is no anything but just mine luck. Ns guess if that wasn’t for bad luck, ns wouldn’t have any kind of luck at all.”

“I very own a house. I deal with it up. I am ready to rent it. The day prior to it is totally fixed, that burns down.”

In 1953 a journalist creating in “The Philadelphia Inquirer” reported on one overheard conversation: 5

It to be on might 3 that the next interesting breakthrough occurred. This to be a lady speaking to one more lady ~ above the subway communication at Girard ave. “My daughter claims if the wasn’t for poor luck she wouldn’t have any kind of luck in ~ all,” the lady reported.

In 1959 a columnist in Kansas City, Missouri deadline to remark to an additional newspaper’s scribe: 6

It was the sort of a day, Collins Ewing laments in the Odessa Odessan, that made you try to remember the other part of that old blues tune that mourned, “If it no for bad luck, i wouldn’t have any kind of luck at all.”

In June 1961 a columnist in “The Los Angeles Times” stated that that heard an instance of the joke from comedian penis Gregory: 7

“If it wasn’t for bad luck when I was a kid I wouldn’t have had any kind of luck at all,” dick confided come me. “I supplied to shine pair of shoes in taverns once I was 5 years old.”

In September 1961 a reporter reported that the joke was used by dick Gregory during a nightclub performance in mountain Francisco: 8

Onstage at the hungry i, in mountain Francisco, comic prick Gregory bemoans his ill-fortune. “If that weren’t for bad luck, ns wouldn’t have any type of luck in ~ all,” the cracks.

In 1967 U.S. Guitarist and singer Albert King videotaped the tune “Born Under a bad Sign”. The lyrics were composed by bandleader Booker T. Jones and also vocalist wilhelm Bell. In 1968 a reporter in “New York Magazine” defined a performance: 9

King raises a voice choose a an effective but slow muscle and cries, “Born under a negative sign, to be down since I start to crawl. If that wasn’t for negative luck, ns wouldn’t have actually no luck in ~ all.”

The an accurate lyrics differ slightly. A YouTube recording contains “began” rather of “begin” in addition to the included phrase “you know”: 10

Born under a poor sign; been down because I began to crawl. If the wasn’t for poor luck, you know I wouldn’t have actually no luck at all.

In 1968 a variant appeared in the compilation “20,000 Quips and also Quotes”: 11

There are three kinds the people: those who have good luck, those who have bad luck, and also those who have no luck in ~ all.

In 2000 “Encarta book of Quotations” printed a thematically connected saying: 12

Even for negative luck you require luck.Yiddish proverb.

In conclusion, E. K. Means helped to popularize this quip starting in 1927. However, QI hypothesizes the the speak was already circulating prior to that year. Sidney Sutherland obtained credit for the hoax from a colleague in 1930. During the ensuing decades countless employed the remark including comedian dick Gregory. The tune “Born Under a negative Sign” by lyricists Booker T. Jones and also William Bell super load the popularity of the saying.

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Image Notes: Horseshoe and also clovers. Publlic domain picture from “Webster’s Encyclopedia of beneficial Information and also World’s Atlas” (1889).

(Great many thanks to Andrew Hollandbeck whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)