Great guitar players and the Blues have gone together since the beginning of time. The two are pretty much inseparable, so if one decides to trace the roots of Blues guitar playing back to it’s core, there will always be the names of some key players in each particular genre. For Electric Blues, the 3 kings, Albert, B.B. and Freddy are 3 chefs that were GIGANTIC in the Blues kitchen!
Freddy King was born Frederick Christian on September 3, 1934 in Gilmer, Texas. Stories vary of how Freddy started to use the last name King in place of his birth name. His Mother was Ella Mae King and most agree that he chose to use her maiden name to hopefully follow the already proven success of another King, B.B. Regardless, the name worked well, and Freddy, who also went by the spelling of Freddie soon took a big interest in the Blues. Freddy, Albert and B.B. King are not related, but when Freddy was once asked if they were, I think he gave the proper response: “No. We are not related, but we’re all brothers!”
In 1949, his family relocated to Chicago’s South Side. Freddy was always on the larger side, even in his youth. This enabled him to get into several Blues clubs many years before he should have, and let him start his Blues education early. Freddy witnessed some great performances at a very young age, taking in T-Bone Walker, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters in the Chicago clubs. Freddy would always name Water’s guitarist Jimmy Rogers as one of his major influences. The saxophone style of Louis Jordan also influenced the young Freddy very much. He would often tell how he listened to Jordan’s tunes over and over until he could match him note for note on guitar. He became very close with Muddy and all of his sidemen. Freddy took on a unique style of picking the guitar with a metal index finger pick and a plastic thumb pick. He always credited the great Eddie Taylor for introducing him to that style.
Freddy worked in steel mills by day, and played the Chicago clubs by night. Along with Jimmy Lee Robinson, Freddy’s first band “The Every Hour Blues Boys” were starting to make a name for themselves around the city. Certain clubs were starting to embrace younger acts with a more stripped down style, and a more “out front” B.B. King style-guitar influence. Whether by chance or on purpose, the clubs that were showcasing this newer style, for the most part, all seemed to be on the West Side. Freddy, along with Luther Allison, Magic Sam, Buddy Guy and others, had now become the architects of what became known as the “West Side Sound.” King auditioned for several labels in Chicago with no luck at first. He was told he sounded too much like B.B. King. [pullquote]He would later say the rejections were the best thing that could have happened to him because it forced him to find his own style.[/pullquote]
Freddy soon met pianist Sonny Thompson who helped him land a deal with the King/Federal label in 1960. The two became great songwriting partners and soon, Freddy’s first 45 single for the label was released. “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” b/w “You’ve Got To Love Her With A Feeling” took the public by storm! But it was the single “I Love The Woman” b/w “Hide Away” that truly broke Freddy to the world. Hands down the greatest Blues instrumental ever made, “Hide Away’s” impact on modern music can never truly be measured. It has been covered and recovered by anyone and everyone who has ever played or will ever play the Blues. As you are reading this, it is guaranteed that “Hide Away” is being played somewhere by numerous bands, either cutting their teeth in the garage, or on stage in front of a loyal crowd. The tune was named for Mel’s Hide Away lounge on Chicago’s West side, and is a combination of “The Walk” by Jimmy McCracklin, a little Hound Dog Taylor, and even throws in the middle section from “Peter Gunn.” Numerous acts supposedly played “Hide Away” in various versions all while coming up on the scene with Freddy. But make no mistake, Freddy King put his stamp on and recorded the definitive version, all in his own style.
After the success of “Hide Away”, Freddy showed the world his mastery for penning great instrumentals. “The Stumble”, “Remington Ride”, “Sen-Sa-Shun” “San-Ho-Zay” and others made Freddy a huge crossover Blues artist. The album Let’s Hide Away and Dance Away with Freddy King is a lesson book for anyone wanting to learn the true art of a Blues instrumental. Classic stuff. During this time the early 60’s “surf” craze was in full bloom. Freddy was the only Blues artist to have his instrumentals released in an album titled Freddy King goes Surfin’! Great news for Freddy, as this was one more outlet for huge crossover success into the mainstream public!
But Freddy also had a voice to go with that great guitar playing! Check out his album Freddy King Sings for a list of now Blues standards including “See See Baby”, “I’m Tore Down” “Have You Ever Loved A Woman?” and more. Another classic LP!
In 1963 King relocated to Dallas, Texas. His voice was becoming stronger, his guitar playing was in a class all it’s own, and with his great chart success he literally became “The Texas Cannonball” living in “The Palace of The King.” He was able to make a decent living on the reputation he had built, and was asked to be on numerous TV specials and radio programs. In 1968 he signed with Cotillion, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records, and also enjoyed his first overseas tour. Freddy was amazed and pleased to learn that whole new crops of English Guitar players were citing him as an influence. Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jeff Beck, and Mick Taylor- they were all covering Freddy’s classic instrumentals, and bragging to everyone they could that Freddy King was THE man! Clapton was quoted as saying; “ Of all the people I’ve played with, the most stimulating in an onstage situation was Freddy King. Freddy could be pretty mean, but subtle with it. He’d make you feel at home and then tear you to pieces. He taught me everything I needed to know…when and when not to make a stand…. when and when not to show your hand…and most important of all… how to make love to a guitar.”
As the 1970’s dawned, Freddy was rightfully viewed as one of Rock n Roll’s founding fathers. He was as comfortable with being on a bill with other Blues acts as he was sharing a stage with a Rock act like Grand Funk Railroad. They even honored him in their single “We’re An American Band” with the classic line “Up all night with Freddy King. I got to tell ya, poker’s his thing!” He signed a deal with Leon Russell’s new label Shelter Records, and continued to release classic albums and play scorching live shows. Most people witnessing his live acts said they left feeling “exhausted” from his performance. Freddy was on fire!
Rock audiences and Blues loyalists all enjoyed a great run in the early to mid seventies when Freddy King carried the torch of the Blues for all to see. Performing close to 300 shows a year and enduring a brutal, constant schedule, King started to experience health issues. On December 28, 1976, Freddy King passed away due to complications from stomach ulcers. The world lost one of the greatest musicians to ever grace the planet. King was a giant in every sense of the word.
Freddy King’s torch still burns as bright as ever. In 1993, Texan governor Ann Richards declared September 3rd as “Freddy King Day”. Finally, and very long overdue, Freddy King will be inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. As long as any band out there decides to play “Hide Away” or “The Stumble”, it means Freddy King is still alive. As long as anyone out there young or old picks up a guitar and bends the strings and then decides to learn who the giants of Blues guitar are, Freddy King will live on. As long as music is being played with the absolute purest form of emotion and heart and soul, Freddy King is still alive, and his music will live forever.