Over the weekend, the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame celebrated the inductions of the Class of 2012. Notable inductees included Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Donovan and the Beastie Boys. Shamefully missing from the spotlight and barely receiving a mention in most of the print and on-line stories was the induction of legendary Texas bluesman Freddie King.
(In the above photo, Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top, Joe Banamassa and Derek Trucks hit the stage to honor King with two songs.)
In blues circles, there are three kings: B.B. King, Albert King and Freddie King (none are related). Everyone has heard of B.B. King. Unless you are a die-hard blues fan, you probably haven’t heard of Albert King. But for me, my favorite King was always Freddie.
Born in Gilmer, Texas in 1934, King and his family moved to Chicago in 1949. The move turned into a blessing in disguise for Freddie. He quickly found his way into the blues clubs in town and was mesmerized by the music he heard.
By age 16, he was sneaking into the clubs on double dares from his buddies. One night he bet his friends that not only would he sneak in, but that he would also find his way on stage and play with the house band. He won the bet, but not before the club owner realized how young he was and ordered the bouncers to escort him out. Freddie never made it out the door, as the legendary Howlin’ Wolf, stepped in and told the owner that the young kid was with him. Not long after, Freddie was running the famed musical streets of Chicago with the likes of Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Robert Lockwood and Little Walter.
King fell in love with the nightlife of the club atmosphere and stayed out after hours partying and gambling. His wife had enough, and with their six children moved back to Texas. Realizing his family wasn’t coming back to Chicago, Freddie moved to Dallas in 1963 and his career began to hit new highs.
The following video is of King performing two songs for the TV show The!!!Beat in the in the mid-sixties.
In 1969 at the Texas Pop Festival, King shared the bill with the likes of Led Zepplin, Sly and the Family Stone and Ten Years After. It was reported that the members of Led Zepplin stood at the side of the stage and were awestruck by King’s guitar playing and soulful voice. His music caught the ear of Oklahoma musician Leon Russell, who had started his own record label – Shelter Records. He recorded three albums on Shelter – Getting Ready (1971), The Texas Cannonball (1972) and Woman Across the River (1973). If you have never heard of, or listened to King’s music, the Shelter Records are considered his finest recordings and a great place to get introduced to the man with a monster guitar and powerfully soulful voice. If you truly love the blues, these three albums are a must for your collection.
Soon after, he found himself out on tour with Grand Funk Railroad (listen for the reference to playing poker with King in their hit song “We Are An American Band”), Creedence Clearwater Rival and Eric Clapton.
The following video was recorded in Sweden in 1973 and really highlights his guitar playing. Watch the video if for no other reason to check out King’s shirt collar! You have to love the fashion of the 70’s. Have you ever seen a shirt with lapels that are so large they fold over his massive shoulders? They look like airplane wings!
Stevie Ray Vaughn and his brother Jimmie were often quoted as stating that Freddie King was a major influence on their music. Other notable guitar greats Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Duane Allman all noted King as a major influence to their musical careers.
King died at the young age of 42 due to complications of an acute ulcer and pancreatitis in Dallas.
His recognition into the Hall of Fame was long overdue, but very, very well deserved.