While overshadowed by the other bluesmen named King, Albert and B.B., Freddie King was an emerging blues-rock star at the time of his premature death from a heart attack. His stinging guitar style, anchored by a propulsive rhythmic intensity and flawless technique, reflected the years spent perfecting his craft in the gritty clubs of Chicago’s black districts.
Born Freddie Christian in Gilmer, Texas, he moved to Chicago in 1950. Shortly thereafter, he began playing in area venues with bands headed by the likes of Little Sonny Cooper and Hound Dog Taylor. He also did session work for the local Parrot and Chess labels during the early 1950s. He eventually formed his own band, the Every Hour Blues Boys.
King’s first solo recordings, more for El-Bee Records in 1956, failed to have any commercial impact. By early 1961, however, he achieved success with the King/Federal label due in no small part to the sure-handed guidance of producer-piano player Sonny Thompson. His biggest hits were divided between instrumental workouts—"Hide Away" (Federal 12401; 1961; #5 R&B, #29 pop) and "San-Ho-Zay" (Federal 12428; 1961; #4 R&B)—and searing vocal renditions—"Lonesome Whistle Blues" (Federal 12415; 1961; #8 R&B), "I’m Tore Down" (Federal 12432; 1961; #5 R&B). By the mid-1960s King had recorded an impressive body of work for the Cincinnati-based firm; nevertheless, he signed on with Atlantic which issued two LPs produced by the legendary saxophonist King Curtis.
Attempting to reach a mainstream audience in the early 1970s, he recorded three albums for Leon Russell’s Shelter label. Although full of rock nuances, the raw vitality of classic cuts such as "Goin’ Down" and "Big Leg Woman" revealed King at the height of his powers. His later work followed the then current vogue of placing American blues giants within a British framework (e.g., producer Mike Vernon and guitarist Eric Clapton), a formula already tried by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Bo Diddley, among others. The results were rather tepid, and any hopes of an artistic rebirth were dashed by his untimely death.
King is well represented on compact disc reissues. Both Takin’ Care of Business (Charly 30) and Texas Sensation (Charly 242) compile the highlights of his King/Federal period. Also available are Just Pickin’ (Modern Blues 721)—a compilation of his instrumental tracks, Texas Cannonball (Shelter) and Getting Ready (Shelter 8003).
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