Freddie King Biography

Billy Myles, 3 September 1934, Gilmer, Texas, USA, d. 28 December 1976, Dallas, Texas. Freddie (aka Freddy) was one of the triumvirate of Kings (the others being B.B. and Albert) who ruled the blues throughout the 60s. He was the possessor of a light, laid-back, but not unemotional voice and a facile fast-fingered guitar technique that made him the hero of many young disciples. He learned to play guitar at an early age, being influenced by his mother, Ella Mae King, and her brother Leon. Although forever associated with Texas and admitting a debt to such artists as T-Bone Walker he moved north to Chicago in his mid-teens. In 1950, he became influenced by local blues guitarists Eddie Taylor and Robert Lockwood. King absorbed elements from each of their styles, before encompassing the more strident approaches of Magic Sam and Otis Rush. Here, he began to sit in with various groups and slowly built up the reputation that was to make him a star.

After teaming up with Jimmy Lee Robinson to form the Every Hour Blues Boys King worked and recorded with Little Sonny Cooper’s band, Earlee Payton’s Blues Cats and Smokey Smothers. These last recordings were made in Cincinnati, Ohio, in August 1960 for Sydney Nathan’s King/Federal organization, and on the same day, King recorded six titles under his own name, including the influential instrumental hit ‘Hideaway’. He formed his own band and began touring, bolstering his success with further hits, many of them guitar showpieces, some trivialized by titles such as ‘The Bossa Nova Watusi Twist’, but others showing off his ‘crying’ vocal delivery. Many, such as ‘(I’m) Tore Down’, ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’ and particularly ‘The Welfare (Turns Its Back On You)’, became classics of the (then) modern blues. He continued to record for King Federal up until 1966, his career on record being masterminded by pianist Sonny Thompson. He left King Federal in 1966 and took up a short tenure (1968-69) on the Atlantic Records subsidiary label Cotillion.

Ironically, the subsequent white blues-boom provided a new-found impetus. Eric Clapton was a declared King aficionado, while Chicken Shack’s Stan Webb indicated his debt by including three of his mentor’s compositions on his group’s debut album. The albums that followed failed to capture the artist at his best. This was not a particularly successful move, although the work he did on that label has increased in value with the passage of time. The same could be said for his next musical liaison, which saw him working with Leon Russell on his Shelter Records label. Much of his work for Russell was over-produced, but King made many outstanding recordings during this period and a re-evaluation of that work is overdue. There was no denying the excitement it generated, particularly on Getting Ready, which was recorded at the famous Chess Records studio. This excellent set included the original version of the much-covered ‘Going Down’. Live recordings made during his last few years indicate that King was still a force to be reckoned with as he continued his good-natured guitar battles with all-comers, and usually left them far behind. Burglar featured a duet with Eric Clapton on ‘Sugar Sweet’, but the potential of this new relationship was tragically cut short in December 1976 when King died of heart failure at the early age of 43. His last stage appearance had taken place three days earlier in his home town of Dallas.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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