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Monday, August 25, 2008

Freddie King, a Blues Master, Part I

September 3rd is the birthday of Freddie King, one of the greatest blues guitarists of all times. The blues master will be honored on Sunday, August 31, 2008, at The Granada Theater. It’s the Fifth Annual Freddie King Blues Fest. Helping to honor King will be blues legends Bobby “Blue” Bland and Hubert Sumlin (the former Howlin Wolf band member who is a great guitarist in his own right) and a number of local blues musicians from around Dallas. The Granada Theater is located at 3524 Greenville Ave., in Dallas, Texas. For more info, visit or call 214-824-9933.

Though his birthday is not until September 3, the daddy is thinking about Freddie King today: how he was influenced by Texas guitarists like T Bone Walker and Lightnin Hopkins, about his influence on top guitarists in Chicago like Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, and, later, on guitarists in Europe like Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, and how, ironically, he never lost influence with black audience, providing a con
nection between blues and R&B. In part I, the daddy will provide a brief biography of King.

In Part II, he will make some points about the blues master that perhaps you didn’t know. Here’s a brief biography of King.


King was born Frederick Christian in Gilmer, Texas on September 3, 1934. His mother was Ella May King, his father J.T Christian. His mother and her brother, who both played the guitar, began teaching Freddie to play at the age of six. He liked and imitated the music of Lightnin Sam Hopkins and saxophonist Louis Jordan.

He moved with his family from Texas to the So
uthside of Chicago in 1950. There, at age 16 he used to sneak in to local clubs, where he heard blues music performed by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, and Sonny Boy Williamson. Howlin Wolf took him under his wing (or paw), and Freddie also began jamming with Muddy Waters’ sidemen, who included Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Rogers, Robert Lockwood Jr. and Little Walter.

By 1952 he had married a Texas girl, Jessie Burnett. He gigged at night and worked days in a steel mill. He got occasional work
as a sideman on recording sessions. Two bands that he played with during this period were the Sonny Cooper Band, and Early Payton’s Blues Cats. He formed the first band of his own, the Every Hour Blues Boys, with guitarist Jimmy Lee Robinson and drummer Sonny Scott.

In 1953 he made some recordings for Parrot. In 1956 he recorded “Country Boy”, a duet with Margaret Whitfield, and “That’s What You Think”, an uptempo blues. This was for a local label, El-Bee. Robert Lockwood Jr. appeared as a sideman on guitar.

In 1959 he met Sonny Thompson, a pianist who worked for the King/Federal label. In 1960, he himself signed with that label; while there he often shared songwriting credits, and participated in marathon recording sessions, with Thompson. On August 26, 1960, he recorded “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” and “Hide Away”, which were to become to of his most popular tunes. His debut release for the label was “You’ve Got To Love Her with Feeling”. His second release on King/Federal was “I Love the Woman”. “Hide Away” was used as the B side for this disk; that tune, a 12-bar mid-tempo shuffle in E with
an infectious theme in the head section, and a memorable stop-time break that featured some robust-sounding work on the bass strings, was destined to become one of his signature numbers. It was an adaptation of a tune by Hound Dog Taylor. It was named “Hide Away” after a popular bar in Chicago. Strictly an instrumental — guitar with rhythm section — it delighted everyone by crossing over and reaching #29 on the pop chart. It was later covered by Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Canadian guitarist Jeff Healey, and likely a majority of the bar blues bands on Planet Earth.

After the success of “Hide Away”, the label, which was presided over by one Syd Nathan, got Freddie and Sonny Thompson to work on making more instrumentals. This they did, producing over 30 of them during the next five years. The following is a partial list: “The Stumble,” “Low Tide,” “Wash Out,” “Sidetracked”, “San-Ho-Zay,” “Heads Up,” “Onion Rings,” and “The Sad Nite Owl”. Freddie became popular with a young white audience, and his playing was a major influence on the upcoming breed of rock guitarists. During this period he was touring frequently along with the big R&B acts of the day such as Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, James Brown. His band included his brother Benny Turner on bass; and Tyrone Davis, who would later become known in his own right, was the driver and valet.

On the personal side, Freddie was fond, perhaps overly fond, of the night life. His official website refers to him “Gambling til dawn in the backroom of Mike’s cleaners.” His wife, now with six children, decided to move back to Texas. Once there, she called Syd Nathan and demanded that he send her some of the royalty money due to her husband. To his credit, he sent her two thousand dollars, with which she made the down payment on a house. Realizing that the family was definitely not coming back to Chicago, Freddie, in the spring of 1963, moved back to Texas.

To read the full biography, see


Somebodies Friend said...

A down payment, buy her a house, and a nice car too...

I bet that comes later, in part II, after he makes it big...

nun in the hood said...

IDEA! How about collecting all these commentaries on musicians into one volume...I think they are in valuable, and very interesting reading! Just a thought....

Anonymous said...

I just watched "Have you ever loved a woman" on YouTube. Wow!

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

folk what u know about elmore james LOL

MacDaddy said...

somebodiesfriend: Stay tuned. I think you'll be pleased.
nun: That is something to think about. Thanks.
anon: "Have you ever loved a woman," "Ain't no sunshine when she's gone," "Ain't nobody's business," a Jimmy Witherspoon tune, are great interpretations. King doesn't play the guitar. He makes love to it.
torrance: What do I know about Elmore James? Only that he's the greatest slide guitarist that ever lived. All the good slide guitarists (Hound Dog Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Jeff Healey, etc.) bow down before James. I'll be doing a post his life and music soon. Stay tuned.