The Story and Music of Freddy King


Introduction to Freddie King

Freddy (or Freddie) King  was an American blues guitarist and singer, often referred to as one of the “Three Kings” in the art of playing electric blues guitar, along with other legends Albert King and B.B. King.  He started his career in the early 50s where he formed his first band, The Every Hour Blues Boys and played as a sideman with several bands.  In 1959 he recorded his first single “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” under Cincinnati, OH-based King Records’ subsidiary label Federal.  Under the same label King recorded the instrumental “Hide Away” in 1961, which would become his biggest hit.  Also in that same year King recorded “San-Ho-Zay” which would do well especially on the R&B charts.  King’s style in guitar playing was described as exploratory, “vocal” and less traditional; and his way of improvising is more intense and creative than his peer B.B. King’s.  His death at 42 (that was blamed on excessive touring) was untimely, yet his influence is still undeniable.  King was ranked #15 by Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarists of all time, and only this year (as of this writing) he was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Freddy King’s early life

African-American blues guitarist and singer Freddie Christian was born on September 3, 1934 in Gilmer, Texas. Popularly known as Freddie (Freddy in his early career) King, he was often mentioned as one of the “The Three Kings” along with other blues legends Albert King and B.B. King during the 1960s music scene. At the early age of six, he was taught playing the guitar by her mother and uncle. In 1950, King and his family relocated to Chicago where he became fascinated in blues music. He used to hang out at some local night clubs where he had been watching blues performers like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone, Elmore James, and Brian Williamson. King started his first band, the Early Hour Blues Boys. At 18 he was working at a steel mill and at the same time, sessioning for bands such as the Little Sonny Copper Band and Earl Payton’s Blues Cats. In the latter, he had his first recording experience on Parrot label which was never released. Around 1956, King was signed on El-Bee Records where he had a duet with Margaret Whitfield on the A-side (“Country Boy”) and on the B-side was King doing the vocals. But unfortunately, the record flopped. Later, he moved to Chess and Cobra Records where he also did some session work.

King’s success on Federal Records

In 1959, King met King Records owner Syd Nathan and pianist, producer, King Records’ A&R man Sonny Thompson who offered him a record contract with Federal label (King Records’  subsidiary). After a year, he issued his debut single “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” b/w “You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling.” In 1961, King released “Hide Away.” The blues instrumental peaked at #5 on the Billboard R&B charts and #29 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Hide Away” was actually an unexpected hit for the genre was not familiar to white audience. King and Thompson continued to record instrumentals which included “The Stumble,” “Just Pickin’,” “Sen-Sha-Shun,” “Side Tracked,” “San-Ho-Zay,” “High Rise,” and “The Sad Nite Owl.” King also embarked on a tour with numerous R&B artists like Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and James Brown.

Back in switching labels

After King’s Federal contract expiration in 1966, he was signed to Cotillion Records (Atlantic subsidiary) in 1968 with the help of King Curtis. Curtis was a producer and saxophone virtuoso who also did a cover of “Hide Away” in 1962. King issued two Cotillion albums: Freddie King is a Blues Master (1969) and My Feeling for the Blues (1970).

In 1971, King moved to rock pianist Leon Russell’s newly-built Shelter Records where he was treated like a “king.” For the recording of Getting Ready, the label let him fly to Chicago to his his former label (Chess) and provided him a backing line-up of top session musicians which included Leon Russell. He issued three albums under Shelter from 1972 to 1973.

During that time, had the chance to perform with Eric Clapton and Gary Carnes for three years until he was later signed to RSO in 1974. He issued Burglar which included the track “Sugar Sweet.” Produced by Tom Dowd, the track featured the guitar works of Clapton and George Terry. Mike Vernon produced the rest of the tracks except “Sugar Sweet.” King’s second album from the label, Larger Than Life was also produced by Vernon.

King’s death

In 1976, King started to experience stomach pains while in the midst of his busy touring schedule. The great blues guitarist died on December 28 that year from bleeding ulcers and heart failure.

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