Freddie King

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Freddie King
Freddie King.jpg
Freddie King
Photo: Chuck Pulin/Star File
Background information
Birth name Fred King
Also known as Freddy King
Born (1934-09-03)September 3, 1934
Gilmer, Texas, United States
Died December 28, 1976(1976-12-28) (aged 42)
Dallas, Texas
Genres Blues
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter
Instruments Guitar, vocals
Years active 1952–1976
Website Freddie King Official website
Notable instruments
Gibson Les Paul guitar
Gibson ES-345

Freddie King (September 3, 1934 – December 28, 1976) was an American blues guitarist and singer. He has been described as one of the "Three Kings" of electric blues guitar, along with Albert King and B.B. King.[1] He was an influential guitarist with hits for Federal Records in the early 1960s. His soulful and powerful voice and distinctive guitar style inspired countless musicians, particularly guitarists (Eric Clapton being a notable example). He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.

King based his guitar style on Texas and Chicago influences. He best-known recordings include the singles "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" (1960) and his Top 40 hit "Hide Away" (1961) and albums such as the early, instrumental-packed Let's Hide Away and Dance Away with Freddy King (1961) and the Burglar (1974), which displayed his mature versatility as both a guitarist and a singer in a range of blues and funk styles. He was one of the first bluesmen to have a multi-racial backing band at live performances.[2]


Early life[edit]

According to his official birth certificate he was named Fred King, and his parents were Ella Mae King and J. T. Christian.[3] When Freddie was six years old, his mother and his uncle began teaching him to play the guitar. In autumn 1949, King and his family moved from Dallas to the South Side of Chicago.[4]

In 1952 King started working in a steel mill. In the same year he married another Texas native, Jessie Burnett. They had seven children.[5][6]


Almost as soon as he had moved to Chicago, King started sneaking into South Side nightclubs, where he heard blues performed by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, and Sonny Boy Williamson. King formed his first band, the Every Hour Blues Boys, with the guitarist Jimmie Lee Robinson and the drummer Frank "Sonny" Scott. In 1952, while employed at the steel mill, the eighteen-year-old King occasionally worked as a sideman with such bands as the Little Sonny Cooper Band and Earl Payton's Blues Cats. In 1953 he recorded with the latter for Parrot Records, but these recordings were never released. As the 1950s went on, King played with several of Muddy Waters's sidemen and other Chicago mainstays, including the guitarists Jimmy Rogers, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Eddie Taylor, Hound Dog Taylor, the bassist Willie Dixon, the pianist Memphis Slim, and the harmonicist Little Walter.

In 1956 he cut his first record as a leader, for El-Bee Records. The A-side was a duet with Margaret Whitfield, "Country Boy".[7] The B-side was a King vocal. Both tracks feature the guitar of Robert Lockwood, Jr., who during these years was also adding rhythm backing and fills to Little Walter's records.[8]

King was repeatedly rejected in auditions for the South Side's Chess Records, the premier blues label, which was the home of Muddy, Wolf, and Walter. The complaint was that King sang too much like B.B. King. A newer blues scene, lively with nightclubs and upstart record companies, was burgeoning on the West Side, though. The bassist and producer Willie Dixon, during a period of estrangement from Chess in the late 1950s, asked King to come to Cobra Records for a session, but the results have never been heard. Meanwhile, King established himself as perhaps the biggest musical force on the West Side. He played along with Magic Sam and reputedly played backing guitar, uncredited, on some of Sam's tracks for the Mel London's Chief and Age labels,[9] though King does not stand out on them.

Federal Records[edit]

In 1959 King got to know Sonny Thompson, a pianist, producer, and A&R man for Cincinnati's King Records. King's owner, Syd Nathan, signed King to the subsidiary Federal Records in 1960. King recorded his debut single for the label on August 26, 1960: "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" backed with "You've Got to Love Her with a Feeling" (again as "Freddy" King). From the same recording session at the King Studios in Cincinnati, Ohio, King cut the instrumental "Hide Away," which the next year reached number 5 on the R&B chart and number 29 on the pop chart, an unprecedented accomplishment for a blues instrumental at a time when the genre was still largely unknown to white audiences. "Hide Away" was originally released as the B-side of "I Love the Woman". "Hide Away" was King's melange of a theme by Hound Dog Taylor and parts by others, such as "The Walk", by Jimmy McCracklin, and "Peter Gunn", as credited by King. The song's title comes from Mel's Hide Away Lounge, a popular blues club on the West Side of Chicago.[10] Willie Dixon later claimed that he had recorded King performing "Hide Away" for Cobra Records in the late 1950s, but such a version has never surfaced.[11] "Hide Away" has since become a blues standard.

After their success with "Hide Away," King and Thompson recorded thirty instrumentals, including "The Stumble," "Just Pickin'," "Sen-Sa-Shun," "Side Tracked," "San-Ho-Zay," "High Rise," and "The Sad Nite Owl".[12][13] They recorded vocal tracks throughout this period but often released the instrumentals as albums on their own merits.

During the Federal period, King toured with many R&B artists of the day, including Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and James Brown.

Cotillion, Shelter, RSO Records[edit]

King in Amsterdam, 1973

King's contract with Federal expired in 1966, and his first overseas tour followed in 1967. His availability was noticed by the producer and saxophonist King Curtis, who had recorded a cover of "Hide Away," with Cornell Dupree on guitar, in 1962. Curtis signed King to Atlantic in 1968, which resulted in two LPs, Freddie King Is a Blues Master (1969) and My Feeling for the Blues (1970), produced by Curtis for the Atlantic subsidiary Cotillion Records.[14]

In 1969 King hired Jack Calmes as his manager, who secured him an appearance at the 1969 Texas Pop Festival, alongside Led Zeppelin and others,[15] and this led to King's signing a recording contract with Shelter Records, a new label established by the rock pianist Leon Russell and the record producer Denny Cordell. The company treated King as an important artist, flying him to Chicago to the former Chess studios for to record the album Getting Ready and providing a lineup of top session musicians, including Russell.[16] Three albums were made during this period, including blues classics and new songs, such as "Goin' Down," written by Don Nix.[17]

King performed alongside the big rock acts of the day, such as Eric Clapton[18] and Grand Funk Railroad (whose song "We're an American Band" mentions King in its lyrics), and for a young, mainly white audience, along with the white tour drummer Gary Carnes, for three years, before signing with RSO Records. In 1974 he recorded Burglar, for which Tom Dowd produced the track "Sugar Sweet" at Criteria Studios in Miami, with the guitarists Clapton and George Terry, the drummer Jamie Oldaker and the bassist Carl Radle. Mike Vernon produced the other tracks.[19] Vernon also produced a second album for King, Larger than Life,[20] for the same label. Vernon brought in other notable musicians for both albums, such as Bobby Tench of the Jeff Beck Group, to complement King.[21]


Nearly constant touring took its toll on King—he was on the road almost 300 days out of the year. In 1976 he began suffering from stomach ulcers. His health quickly deteriorated, and he died on December 28 of complications of this illness and acute pancreatitis, at the age of 42.[22]

According to those who knew him, King's untimely death was due to stress, a legendary "hard-partying lifestyle",[23][24] and poor diet (he was in the habit of consuming Bloody Marys rather than solid food so as not to waste time when setting up shows).

Playing style and technique[edit]

King had an intuitive style, often creating guitar parts with vocal nuances.[25] He achieved this by using the open-string sound associated with Texas blues and the raw, screaming tones of West Side, Chicago blues. King's combination the Texas and Chicago sounds gave his music a more contemporary feel than that of many Chicago bands who were still performing 1950s-style music, and he befriended the younger generation of blues musicians. In his early career he played a gold-top Gibson Les Paul with P-90 pickups through a Gibson GA-40 amplifier. He later played Gibson ES-355 guitars,[26] using a plastic thumb pick and a metal index-finger pick to achieve an aggressive finger attack, a style he learned from Jimmy Rogers.[citation needed]

Awards and recognition[edit]

By proclamation of the governor of Texas, Ann Richards, September 3, 1993, was declared Freddie King Day, an honor reserved for Texas legends, such as Bob Wills and Buddy Holly.[27]

King placed 15th in Rolling Stone magazine′s list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time[28]

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.


Studio albums[edit]

Year Title Label Peak chart
1961 Freddy King Sings King 762
Let's Hide Away and Dance Away with Freddy King King 773
1962 Boy – Girl – Boy
Freddy King, Lulu Reed & Sonny Thompson
Federal 777
1963 Bossa Nova and the Blues Federal 821
Freddy King Goes Surfin' Federal 856
1965 Bonanza of Instrumentals Federal 928
Freddie King Sings Again Federal 931
1969 Freddie King Is a Blues Master Cotillion SD 9004
1970 My Feeling for the Blues Cotillion SD 9016
1971 Getting Ready Shelter SW8905
1972 The Texas Cannonball Shelter SW8913
1973 Woman Across the River Shelter SW8921 54 158
1974 Burglar RSO SO4803 53
1975 Freddie King Larger Than Life RSO SO4811

Selected compilation albums[edit]

Year Title Label Peak chart
1965 All His Hits King 5012
1976 Freddie King 1934–1976 Polydor 831817-2
1987 Freddie King 17 Original Greatest Hits Federal Records
1989 Just Pickin' Modern Blues
1993 Hide Away: The Best of Freddie King Rhino
1995 King of the Blues EMI/Shelter
1997 Staying Home with the Blues Universal/Spectrum
2000 The Best of Freddie King: The Shelter Records Years The Right Stuff
2008 The Best of Freddie King MCA
2009 Taking Care of Business Bear Family
2012 The Complete King Federal Singles Real Gone Music

Charting singles[edit]

Year Title (A-side / B-side) Label Peak chart
R&B[29] US[29]
1956 "Country Boy" / "That's What You Think" El-Bee 157
1960 "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" Federal 12384
"You've Got to Love Her with a Feeling" Federal 12384 92
1961 "Hide Away" / "I Love the Woman" Federal 12401 5 29
"Lonesome Whistle Blues" /

"It's Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough)"

Federal 12415 8 88
"San-Ho-Zay" Federal 12428 4 47
"See See Baby" Federal 12428 21
"I'm Tore Down" / "Sen-Sa-Shun" Federal 12432 5
"Christmas Tears" / "I Hear Jingle Bells" Federal 12439 28


  1. ^ Gerd Klassen. "The Three Kings of Blues – Albert, B.B. and Freddie King". Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  2. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas; Koda, Cub. "Freddie King". Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  3. ^ Unnamed daughter of Freddie King. "The Texas Cannonball: Growing Up in East Texas". Estate of Freddie King. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  4. ^ Unnamed daughter of Freddie King. "The Texas Cannonball: Growing Up in East Texas". Estate of Freddie King. Archived from the original on January 24, 2009. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  5. ^ Unnamed daughter of Freddie King. "The Texas Cannonball: Sweet Home Chicago". Estate of Freddie King. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  6. ^ Unnamed daughter of Freddie King. "The Texas Cannonball: The Palace of the King". Estate of Freddie King. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  7. ^ O'Neal, Jim; Van Singel, Amy. The Voice of the Blues: Classic Interviews from Living Blues Magazine. Routledge. p. 359. 
  8. ^ Freddie King Estate. "Sweet Home Chicago". Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  9. ^ Unnamed daughter of Freddie King. "Texas Cannonball: Sweet Home Chicago". Estate of Freddie King. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  10. ^ Dahl, Bill. "Hideaway". allmusic. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  11. ^ Dixon, Willie; Snowden, Don. I Am the Blues: The Willie Dixon Story. Da Capo. 
  12. ^ Pruter, Robert. Chicago Soul. University of Illinois Press. p. 236. 
  13. ^ "Freddie King Song Credits". allmusic. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  14. ^ Hardy, Laing, Barnard and Perretta. texas Music. Schirmer Books. p. 251. 
  15. ^ Hayner, Richard.C. "The Texas Pop Festival". Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  16. ^ "Getting Ready credits". Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  17. ^ Kosta, Rick. Texas Music. St. Martin's Press. p. 187. 
  18. ^ Tony Stewart, NME. "Crystal Palace Bowl Concert". Retrieved 2010-01-23. 
  19. ^ Viglione, Joe. "Burglar". Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  20. ^ "Larger Than Life". Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  21. ^ "Bobby Tench". Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  22. ^ Freddie King at Find a Grave
  23. ^ NPR. Freddie King's Rock-Hall-of-Fame induction
  24. ^ Gibson Guitars 10 Reasons Why Blues Legend Freddie King Was a Genius
  25. ^ Corcoran, Michael (2005). All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music. University of Texas Press. p. 54. 
  26. ^ Lawrence, Robb. The Early Years of the Les Paul Legacy 1915–1963. Hal Leonard. p. 247. 
  27. ^ Van Beveren, Amy. "Freddie King". 
  28. ^ "100 Greatest Guitarists. No: 15 Freddie King". 
  29. ^ a b Whitburn 1988, p. 216.


  • Busby, Mark (2004). The Southwest. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-32805-3.
  • Clapton, Eric (2007). Clapton: The Autobiography. Broadway Books. Digitized September 4, 2008. ISBN 978-0-385-51851-2.
  • Corcoran, Michael (2005). All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-70976-8.
  • Forte, Dan (2000). "Freddie King". In Rollin' and Tumblin': The Postwar Blues Guitarists. Jas Obrecht, ed. San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books. pp. 275–280. ISBN 0-87930-613-0, 978-0-87930-613-7.
  • Hardy, Phil; Laing, Dave; Stephen, Barnard; Perretta, Don (1988). Encyclopedia of Rock. 2nd ed., rev. Schirmer Books. Digitized December 21, 2006. ISBN 978-0-02-919562-8.
  • Koster, Rick (2000). Texas Music. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-25425-4.
  • Lawrence, Robb (2008). The Early Years of the Les Paul Legacy 1915–1963. Hal Leonard. ISBN 978-0-634-04861-6.
  • O'Neal, Jim; Van Singel, Amy (2002). The Voice of the Blues: Classic Interviews from Living Blues Magazine. 10th ed. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-93653-8.
  • Pruter, Robert (1992). Chicago Soul. 5th ed., reprint. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-06259-9.

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