Freddie King was one of the kingpins of modern blues guitar

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03.09 – Happy Birthday!!! Along with Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, and Magic Sam, King spearheaded Chicago’s modern blues movement in the early ’60s and helped set the stage for the blues-rock boom of the late ’60s.

His influence helped preserve a legacy characterized by searing, aggressive guitar solos and the welding of blues and rock into one cohesive sound.

Although Freddie King was born and raised in Texas, he matured as a musician in Chicago. His guitar style combined country and urban influences. As a child, King grew up on the music of such legendary country blues guitarists as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Arthur “Big Boy”Crudup. After he and his family moved to Chicago in 1950,King began hanging out in clubs where the stinging, city-hot guitar work of such Mississippi Delta- rooted blues men as Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, and Eddie Taylor filled the air.

Though he first recorded in the 1950s-cutting sides for the obscure El-Bee label and doing a few session dates for Chess, King didn’t begin to attract attention until after he signed with Federal Records in 1960. (Federal was a subsidiary of the Cincinnati-based King Record label.) Under the guidance of pianist Sonny Thompson, King’s early-’60s sessions resulted in such stellar tunes as”Lonesome Whistle Blues” and “I’m Tore Down” as well as a potent rendition of “Have You Ever Loved a Woman.”

King also recorded numerous instrumentals in the early ’60s. One song, “Hide Away,” reached number 29 on the Billboardpop charts in 1961 and ranks among the most popular blues instrumentals ever recorded. Named for Mel’s Hideaway Lounge, a noted Chicago blues club, the song showcased King’s guitar prowess and inventiveness in combining catchy themes drawn from blues, rock, and rhythm & blues. Thanks to the popularity of twangy guitar instrumentals in the early ’60s, King was able to move freely from blues to R&B to rock-flavored blues and novelty songs like “Bossa Nova Watusi Twist,””Monkey Donkey,” and “Surf Monkey.”

King’s relationship with Federal/King ended in 1968. Although King’s most productive period was over, he enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in the late ’60s when English blues-rock guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, and Peter Green began covering King tunes and incorporating elements of his guitar style into their own. This brought King renewed recognition and a growing audience among blues- rock fans, plus a new recording contract in 1968 with Cotillion, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records, releasing “Freddie King Is a Blues Masters” in ’69 and “My Feeling for the Blues,” in 1970; both collections were produced by King Curtis.

Two years later King jumped to Shelter Records. King recorded three albums for Shelter in the early ’70s, all of which sold well. In addition to respectable sales, his concerts were also quite popular with both blues and rock audiences.

His last recording contract was with RSO Records in 1974, and he released “Burglar,” which was produced and recorded with Clapton. Following the release of “Burglar,” in 1975, he released his second RSO album, “Larger Than Life.” Though the bulk of King’s blues from this era leaned heavily toward funk and rock, his guitar work remained stylish and supple.

King played with a plastic thumb pick and a metal index- finger pick. King’s style of wearing his strap on his right shoulder, while being right handed, was unique for the time. Freddie King has certainly passed into the Blues Guitarist pantheon, and his song “Hideaway,” helped influence and define individual ability on the instrument.

King was only forty-two years old when he died in 1976.

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