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F REDDIE K ING : B LUES M ASTER


by Mark Humphrey
Blues histories
tend to get written
about regions:
Mississippi’s
Delta, the Caroli-
nas, the vast
s p r a w l o f Te x a s
and urban centers
like Chicago, St.
Louis and Mem-
phis. Stylistic
traits dominant in
each region are
carefully delin-
eated by a writer,
Courtesy of Wanda King

who invokes ar t-
ists to illustrate
and suppor t dis-
tinctly regional
traits. This ap-
proach usually
works wonders
with pre-War blues, but its value decreases the nearer
we come to our own time. Chicago’s electric blues bands
of the 1950s played their music with still-discernible
Delta accents, but they were no less influenced by what
they heard via radio and related media than were other
urban musicians of their era. By the 1960s, regional pi-
geonholing of blues became still less tenable. One case
in point: Freddie King.
King was both musically and geographically all over
the map. He was from Texas and the “jump” of his West-
ern Swing laced instrumentals tags him in the tradition
of swinging electric blues guitarists spawned by T-Bone
Walker, who was waxing the likes of T-Bone’s Boogie
back in 1945. But listen to King’s emotion-drenched
vocals and you hear the influence of such “testifiers” as
B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Little Milton
Campbell, all progeny of the fertile Memphis music
scene of the late 1940s and early 1950s. (“Freddie was

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more like the guys out of Memphis,” fellow Texan Albert
Collins once said.) King had no geographic link to Mem-
phis, but Chicago was his home for more than a de-
cade.
He arrived in his teens and experienced formative
musical influences and challenges there. King credited
Muddy Waters's sideman Jimmy Rogers and Jimmy
Reed’s lead guitarist Eddie Taylor as his guitar tutors
and fondly recalled “trading licks” with Otis Rush and
Magic Sam. “Working in Chicago,” King recalled in a
Living Blues interview, “that’s where I first started play-
ing in a band, but I been playing guitar since I was six.
But I picked up the style between Lightnin’ Hopkins and
Muddy Waters and B.B. King and T-Bone Walker. That’s
in-between style, that’s the way I play, see. So I plays
country and city.”
King polished his chops and earned his stripes in
the competitive Chicago blues club scene and even ap-
peared as sideman on such legendary Howlin’ Wolf sides
as Wang-Dang Doodle and Back Door Man. But if we
didn’t know of King’s Chicago background, we might
well not hear it in his music.
What was a Texan doing in Chicago anyway? Didn’t
all Texans migrate to the West Coast? Pinning Freddie
King on the map is no small task. His music was never
not blues, yet he was able to penetrate the “pop” mar-
ket in 1961 without diluting what he played or conde-
scending to white teen taste. He did it with breezy con-
fidence, taking a tune named for Mel’s Hideaway Lounge
in Chicago to a place few blues-based instrumentals had
been before: the pop charts.
Hide Away was the pivotal turn in King’s career, a
danceable vamp that gave him a sharp leg up on his
Chicago peers. It might never have happened had King
successfully persuaded Leonard Chess to add him to
his label roster. King’s recording career began modestly
in 1956 on one of many short-lived Chicago blues la-
bels, El-Bee. His sole El-Bee release, Country Boy b/w
That’s What You Think, went nowhere, though it at least
served as a souvenir for club patrons. Chess was the
place to be: home base to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf
and other “elder statesmen” who sometimes deigned to
let King sit in with them. King wanted the cachet of be-
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ing a Chess ar tist, but Leonard gruf fly told him he
sounded too much like another King – B.B.
While it doubtless seemed otherwise at the time,
Chess did King a favor, for it’s unlikely he could have
excelled there. He wasn’t the sort of artist Chess served
especially well, and regional accents may indeed have
played a role in this: the sound of the Delta, not the
Southwest, was the dominant drawl there. One Chess

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artist, Lowell Fulson, hailed from Oklahoma but carved
his musical niche in California. He enjoyed one of his
biggest hits, 1954’s Reconsider Baby, at Chess, but that
was cut in Dallas. To this day Fulson expresses frustra-
tion at his Chicago sessions with the Chess studio mu-
sicians: their feel and his, he says, just weren’t in sync.
King, a Texan at hear t, might have been similarly
thwarted.
That he found a place to successfully do what he
did best on record was thanks to the intervention of
Alphonse “Sonny” Thompson (1916-1989). Thompson
was a Chicago-born bandleader/pianist who admired the
jazz of Art Tatum but waxed boogie, debuting with the
1946 Sultan label side, South Side Boogie. He began
recording for the Cincinnati-based King label in 1950
and in 1959 replaced Ralph Bass as A&R director and
producer at King’s Chicago office. Thompson signed
Freddie (then ‘Freddy’) King to the label in 1960 and
played piano on all King’s 1960-64 recordings. While
his contribution to such tunes as Hide Away is dubious,
Thompson appears as co-writer on most of King’s re-
cordings of the era and even saw to it that his wife, Lulu
Reed, joined King on a several vocal duets!
The King label was all over the musical map, which
made it a natural base for Freddie King. Launched by
‘the Sheppard Brothers’ (Grandpa Jones and Merle
Travis) in 1945, King was an eclectic melange of coun-
tr y, blues, bluegrass and gospel artists. When Freddie
King joined the label in 1960, his roster mates included
the Stanley Brothers and James Brown! The founder of
the label, Syd Nathan, was remembered by Merle Travis
as “a little short man who had asthma and wore real
thick glasses.” In Honkers and Shouters: The Golden
Years of Rhythm & Blue (1978, Collier Books, New
York), Arnold Shaw wrote: “Overweight and a careless
dresser, he (Nathan) hardly looked like the man who
could transform a defunct icehouse into one of the
country’s giant record independents. Nathan developed
a plant in which he could record, master, press and pro-
duce finished disks, including the printing of album cov-
ers.” In his autobiography, James Brown: The Godfather
of Soul (1986, William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd, Glasgow),
Brown depicts Nathan as “Little Caesar—short, fat and
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smoking a big cigar. He yelled all the time in a big,
hoarse voice and everybody was afraid of him.” Still,
Peter Guralnick repor ts in Sweet Soul Music (1986,
Harper & Row, New York) that Brown wept at news of
Nathan’s death: “When his chief antagonist and booster,
Syd Nathan, died in 1968, he (Brown) acquired Nathan’s
marble-top desk and installed a gold plaque that read: I
REMEMBER THE MAN SYD NATHAN.”
Nathan
knew the com-
mercial ad-
vantages of
eclecticism
and since he
controlled
King label
song publish-
i n g , e n c o u r-
aged his R&B
acts to cover
his countr y
hits (and vice
versa) to gen-
erate further
revenue. This
was not al-
ways a suc-
cess, as any-
one who’s
heard the
Stanley Broth-
ers’ hilariously
earnest cover of Hank Ballard’s Finger-Poppin’ Time can
testify. But Nathan, unlike Leonard Chess, at least
wouldn’t blanch at a blues singer-guitarist cutting a tune
like Hide Away. He certainly had no complaints when
the record went to # 5 on the R&B charts (# 29 pop).
Both the diversity and consistent high quality of
King’s Federal label singles and King label albums are
astonishing, given the speed at which this material was
produced. Few sessions yielded less than six titles and
on a single August day in 1964 King cranked out a
dozen! Deep blues with searing vocals were always there
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among the danceable instrumentals and were uncom-
promisingly blues-based. An interesting exception is
King’s 1963 cover of Remington Ride, originally a show-
case for Western Swing steel guitarist Herb Remington.
For better than five minutes King wraps an increasingly
tight spiral of blues riffs around a countr y stomp, revel-
ing in his command of two seemingly disparate idioms.
It’s one of his greatest recorded performances, although
the more familiar ones are stunning in a funkier way. In
retrospect, tunes like 1961’s San-Ho-Zay may be seen
not only as blues guitar workouts but also as pioneer-
ing Soul instrumentals well in advance of Booker T and
the MGs’ Green Onions.
King’s six-year stint at the King label ended with a
final session in September 1966, the year of his spec-
tacular appearances on The!!!!Beat. His national star
was on the wane (gone were the days of package tours
with pop stars like the Shirelles) and the television ex-
posure was most welcome. But since The!!!!Beat aired
on most stations around midnight and was regrettably
short-lived, the program did little to revive King’s ca-
reer. That task fell to saxophonist/Atlantic A&R man
King Curtis, who signed King to Atlantic’s Cotillion sub-
sidiary in 1968. The recordings which ensued coincided
with the discovery of the blues by the era’s white youth
and King’s European tours were revelations to rock gui-
tarists who honed their chops copying his records, no-
tably Pete Green, Stan Webb, Mick Taylor and Eric
Clapton.
A decade after Hide Away, King found himself again
playing to white audiences and his 1970-73 recordings
for Leon Russell’s Shelter label put him in the forefront
of authoritative bluesmen who spellbound white youth
raised on blues-based rock. King had always been a
“heavy” guitarist and he had to change little to fit his
new/old role. (One of King’s Shelter label songs, Big-
Legged Woman, closes this video collection.) Repaying
a debt to an old friend (and guitar teacher), King pro-
duced and played on a 1972 Shelter label session for
Jimmy Rogers.
In 1974, King was in England recording for RSO with
Eric Clapton, with whom he also toured. “I think of all
the people I’ve ever played with,” Clapton told Guitar
7
Player, “the most stimulating in an onstage situation was
Freddie King. Freddie could be pretty mean, but subtle
with it. He’d make you feel at home and then tear you
to pieces.” The guitar duet/duel with Gatemouth Brown
in one of The!!!!Beat episodes suggests King enjoyed
having the last word whenever there was another gui-
tarist onstage. Lowell Fulson says of King: “He was one
of the best guys to work with. The only thing, he didn’t
like competition. But he didn’t worr y about me. Differ-
ent style. He’d say, ‘It don’t make no difference, Lowell.
We don’t clash.’ I’d say, ‘I can’t play what you play,
Freddie, with all them fingers and picks and thumbs and
stuff. I could do it when I was your age.’ (laughs) We
got along together fine. He was a likable guy.”
Freddie King, hard-driving and perhaps driven, was
only 42 when he died on December 28, 1976. The in-
tensity of the performances in this video suggest an art-
ist who burned at full throttle every time he played and
no doubt that took its toll. The recollections of King’s
daughter, Wanda, depict a man who loved life, lived it
fully and probably would have penned his epitaph: “”No
regrets.” Guitarists as diverse as Michael Bloomfield and
Jerry Garcia have cited King as a formative influence
and the reported proliferation of ‘live’ King bootleg re-
cordings in Europe bear witness to his continued popu-
larity abroad. But King was quintessentially American
and there’s no hearing his “happy blues” instrumentals
without recalling that great bygone adolescent rite, the
sock hop, at which such King albums as “Let’s Hide
Away and Dance Away” were once staples. There teen
extroverts would joyfully jive and frug to Freddie, while
wallflower two-left-footed guys would imagine twang-
ing a guitar as sharp as he did, thereby inciting ardent
admiration among the dreamiest chicks. It was a fan-
tasy for most of us, but a few awkward guys actually
did master the guitar, become rich rock stars and bed
hopelessly beautiful models (cf. Layla). And the cata-
lyst for it all was Freddie King, the swinging blues gui-
tarist we all heard first and foremost.

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T HE !!!!B EAT

Courtesy of Wild Oak Pictures


Most of the video clips on this collection come from
a unique time warp, a fleeting moment when Southern
R&B collided with mid-60s “Mod” and rendered a show
called The!!!!Beat. The exclamation-point-and-asterisk
set design, fringed mini-skirted, go-go booted and pais-
ley bell-bottomed frugsters and the occasional “sock-
it-to-me” visual edits suggest a show heavily influenced
by Laugh-In, but in fact The!!!!Beat had already as-
cended to video Valhalla by the time Laugh-In made its
1967 debut. “We were just too early” is how its host,
Bill “Hoss” Allen, assesses the brevity of The!!!!Beat’s
26 show run. While the show may have been ahead of
its time, the time it brings us is one when television pro-
graming for black audiences was otherwise nonexistent
and blues remained a powerful force in Southern black
popular music.
Daniel Cooper’s definitive article, “R&B’s Forgot-
ten Pioneer Program,” in the February 5, 1993 Goldmine,
of fers this over view: “Nearly unseen for 25 years,
The!!!!Beat remains a treasure trove of incomparable
color footage from one of the richest, most volatile eras
in American music: 1960s soul.” Ironically, we owe the
existence of these great Freddie King performances to
a Nashville ad agency which scored spectacular laxa-
tive sales via televised hillbillies!
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Noble-Dury and Associates used their Show Biz, Inc.
arm to produce the Porter Wagoner and Wilburn Broth-
ers syndicated country music programs. They were ve-
hicles for Noble-Dur y’s client, the Chattanooga Medi-
cine Company, to hawk a “moving” elixir with a fore-
boding name, Black Draught. The shows were essen-
tially old-time medicine shows in the television age. And
they were so successful that, in 1966, Noble-Dury de-
cided to try similar programing aimed at black consum-
ers, The!!!!Beat.
Host Bill “Hoss” Allen was a legendar y force in
Souther n R&B whose broadcasting career began at
Nashville’s WLAC in 1949. The power ful station did
much to disseminate R&B throughout the country. “We
were 50,000 watts,” Allen recalls. “We started getting
mail from D.C. to El Paso, from the Bahamas to De-
troit. We covered 28 states every night, good ‘n clear.”
Allen’s connections with artists and their labels made
him a natural to enlist talent, including the house band.
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown was a Texas bluesman
then working in Nashville and guitarist Johnny Jones
and the King Kasuals were a Nashville staple who often
worked sessions for Allen. Cooper writes: “Brown wrote
and per formed the show’s staccato blues theme and set
the head arrangements for the lively instrumentals
throughout. Jones took charge of the charted vocal num-

Courtesy of Wild Oak Pictures

10
bers since Brown didn’t read music...Brown—the vet-
eran showman—says he had trouble adjusting to the
cameras. ‘I was working with machines and I couldn’t
see no one,’ he says. ‘I like to work to my audience.”’
Shot between May and August 1966 at Dallas’s
W FA A b e c a u s e o f i t s c o l o r p r o d u c t i o n f a c i l i t i e s ,
The!!!!Beat initially offered stunning performances by
Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Little Milton, Etta James
and Louis Jordan (among others) to thirteen stations,
Cooper reports, “distributed evenly among major urban
markets and mid-size Southern cities...” (A few other
stations picked it up later.) Slotted on weekend mid-
nights or afternoons, the show fared poorly in ratings
and several late-summer cancellations doomed it. Rac-
ism or indifference? “We were just too early,” is Allen’s
summation.
Freddie King was 31 at the time of The!!!!Beat, play-
ing and singing in prime form. Excepting his guitar duel
with Gatemouth and instrumental version of James
Brown’s 1965 hit, Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, all the
performances are of his King/Federal titles. The funky
opening tune (reprised as the 13th) is Funny Bone, a
1964 recording which appeared on the album Bonanza
of Instrumentals. (No, Freddie never recorded the TV
western theme!) King’s intense vocals are then brought
to bear on a rhetorically powerful blues, Have You Ever
Loved A Woman. The song was cut at his initial Cincin-
nati session in 1960 and was his first Federal single. It
was actually the flip side that provided Freddie his first
modest chart success (You’ve Got to Love Her with a
Feeling revamped a 1950 Tampa Red song and made it
to #93 on the pop Hot 100), but Have You Ever Loved a
Woman was such a dramatic show-stopper that King
kept it in his repertoire to the end of his career. (He
reprises it in the 1973 Swedish concert seen in this
video.) The third performance offers a slow and sexy
San-Ho-Zay, King’s 1961 instrumental follow-up to Hide
Away. The record only made it to #47 on the pop charts,
but soared to #4 on the R&B charts. (King offers an
inspired reprise as the 12th workout in this video.)
I’m Tore Down is per formed at a more frenetic pace
(all the better to encourage the teenaged go-go danc-
ers) than was King’s 1961 recording. That song made it
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to #5 on the R&B charts, though this jump blues pre-
dictably left no trace on the pop charts. The writer cred-
its are to Sonny Thompson, but one suspects the crafty
hand of Syd Nathan recycling his back catalogue. Us-
ing the same driving tune but new lyrics, the song re-
vamped a 1956 Federal label hit by Ike Turner’s Kings
of Rhythm (Billy Gayles was vocalist), I’m Tore Up.
Hide Away gets a breezy kick here in a priceless
per formance where Freddie, the Beat Boys and the
fringed go-go girls are all delightfully “in the spirit.”
Deeper blues from his first King label session is de-
livered in a per formance of I Love the Woman (no chart
action this time), while the “new breed sound” of James
Brown is acknowledged with Papa’s Got a Brand New
Bag. King recorded this at his first 1968 Cotillion ses-
sion, but it remains unissued.
The kicking See See Baby is another song King
waxed at his initial King session. This rockin’ revamp
of one of the oldest blues reached the #21 slot on the
R&B charts in October 1961 and was one of a half-dozen
R&B (and three pop) chart hits King enjoyed that year.
Sittin’ On The Boatdock was recorded in Januar y of
1962, a Sonny Thompson song obviously inspired by
the recent success of Lee Dorsey’s Ya Ya. While it failed
to duplicate it, perhaps it inspired Otis Redding’s (Sittin’
on the) Dock of the Bay a few years later. And King’s
Texas roots are laid bare in a brief up-down vocal in-
flection on the word “shining” (he used it more often on
the recording) which sounds akin to the phrasing of Blind
Lemon Jefferson.
The final Federal single King revamped for
The!!!!Beat inspired one of the most scorching show-
cases on the program. She Put the Whammy On Me was
recorded at the same 1962 session as Sittin’ On The
Boatdock, but what different songs! King surely plays
like a man possessed, lending credence to his complaint.
Pre-War blues lovers may want to compare King’s
Whammy to Clifford Gibson’s 1929 recording, Don’t Put
That Thing on Me, as well as other vintage “jinx” songs.
Whammy-putting women had been after bluesmen for a
long time.
King’s brilliant “whammy” as a guitarist can be stud-
ied closely in these performances. Listeners often as-
12
sume King used a
flatpick, but he
evolved his ap-
proach from a fin-
gerstyle tradition.
Watching his right
hand thumb and
finger work in tan-
dem is not dis-
similar to watch-
ing such “mono-
tonic bass” Texas
traditionalists as
Mance Lipscomb
play, even though
the resultant mu-
sic is entirely

Courtesy of Wild Oak Pictures


something else!
“It comes from
the wrist,” King
explained in a Liv-
i n g B l u e s i n t e r-
v i e w, “ f r o m t h e
fingers here and
then I don’t use
any straight pick,
I use two. I use fingerpicks, steel, on this and a plastic
pick on the thumb. And then I knock the tone down with
the back of my hand. A lot of these rock groups, they
hit wide open, whereas, you see, I can hit it open. I can
turn it up to 10 and it still won’t be too loud, see, be-
cause I can keep the sound down with the back of my
hand like that.”

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H OSS A LLEN
interviewed by
Mark Humphey March 18, 1994

Courtesy of Wild Oak Pictures

“Ah, everything is movin’ ‘n groovin’ tonight, darlin’,


I wanna tell you like a friend.” - Hoss Allen on The!!!!Beat
“I had been in the business since 1949 playing R&B,
primarily blues and up until we did The!!!!Beat I had
never heard of Freddie King. And on top of that, I worked
for three years for King Records, did record promotion
and never heard of Freddie King. And actually, I wrote
some liner notes. Hal Neely told me later, he said,
‘Goddamn, you wrote liner notes for him!’ And I said,
‘Man, I cannot believe it!”’
(Hoss’s notes to the King ‘best of’ compilation called
“Hideaway”, actually followed his stint as MC of
The!!!!Beat: “I think it was his frequent appearances on

14
my TV show, The!!!!Beat, along with another super-blues
guitarist, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, that really
hooked me forever,” Hoss wrote. He praised the album’s
songs as “all freewheeling—groovy—and above all,
gassy good! You can blow your mind on the pulsing gy-
rations of Remington Ride, with licks and bending of
chords reminiscent of the late Django Reinhardt...Well,
if you aren’t ready for your own Hideaway after listen-
ing to this album of Freddie’s best....you ain’t what’s
happening, baby!”)
“He’d be hanging out there (at WFAA) ever y time
we came to cut...He’d just be waiting. He’d find out and
he’d be there when we arrived to go to work. We’d usu-
ally cut on Saturdays and Sundays when the studio was
free. So finally somebody from the staff there said, ‘This
guy really plays great guitar. His name is Freddie King.’
So I said, ‘I never heard of the son-of-a-bitch.’ I asked
one of the guys in the band, Johnny Jones, who played
guitar in the band and also Billy Cox, who later played
bass for Jimi Hendrix and was my bass man on the band.
And he said, ‘Oh God, yeah, Freddie King. Haven’t you
heard Freddie King?’ I said, ‘Naw.’
“He came in and hit about two licks and I realized
that I should have known him anyhow. He’s on a lot of
shows, just because he was so good and then a lot of
times we’d have acts that were supposed to show that
didn’t show up.”
So he was the pinch hitter.
“Yeah, but then after he’d been on a couple of shows
we just kept putting him on.”
How was he to work with?
“Oh, God, fantastic. Just a great big happy kid.
Yeah, just a wonderful guy. So easy to get along with
and do anything you said. We just let him play what he
wanted to, because I didn’t really know his repertoire.
Then I found out some of the things he’d done on King
that had been great records. And, of course, he redid
some of those. I’ve forgotten what the hell they were
now.”
What were the rehearsals like?

15
Courtesy of Wild Oak Pictures
“Well, it was pretty primeval, to tell you the truth.”

Freddie would just say, ‘It’s a shuffle in E’?


“Yeah, that’s all. We’d run the show down. They
might get a key together, then we’d do a dress. And
then we’d shoot it. Sometimes we didn’t even dress for
some of the top acts.”
How did you come to MC the show?
“I was hired primarily because I could get all the
acts free. I had worked for Chess on the road and had
been on the air so long and none of these black acts
had ever been on TV. Also it was great exposure from
the standpoint of the record companies. I could call
anybody and say, ‘Look, I want so-’n- so.’”
Who were The Beat Boys?
“The band was a band of local Nashville musicians.
(guitarist) Johnny Jones, his band (The King Kasuals) I
used as a studio band here in town. I cut a lot of ses-
sions that never really amounted to anything. But we
used to get together every Saturday afternoon and just
lay down a lot of stuff. Gatemouth was working over at
the New Era for about 25 bucks a night. He just didn’t
have anything to do and I think he got about a hundred
bucks a show to lead the band. We paid all the expenses
for the band to go down there. As a matter of fact, I had
16
to get those guys in the (musicians) union. They were
the first black members of the union here in Nashville.
“The show was a little before its time. We had some
pretty good shows, considering the production facilities
in those days and everything. We had a lot of great acts.
It started off big time. I mean, we were in Chicago and
Detroit and New York...Not so many markets in the
South. Montgomery, Alabama, they burned a cross on
the damn lawn of the TV station because it was an all-
black show. But it went along the first 8 or 10 weeks
pretty good. Then it started fading away. We did 26
shows, but it was just sort of barely hanging on. We were
just too early. But there’s fantastic stuff there.”
Did you run into Freddie King after The!!!!Beat?
“No, I haven’t seen him to my certain knowledge since
then. I don’t know whether he’s even still living or not.”
You’re still there at WLAC radio?
“Yeah, I still keep an office. I retired six, seven years
ago, but I still do freelance commercial work. I went to
gospel in ’71. The blues were gone, so I went to black
gospel and I had a show midnight to 5 of black gospel.
And I still have a little show I tape. But primarily I’m
doing freelance. Just having something to get the hell
out of the house.”-
Courtesy of Wild Oak Pictures

17
F REDDIE K ING ’ S D AUGHTER
R EMEMBERS
Wanda King interviewed by
Mark Humphrey
March 18, 1994

Gary Jones
“I’ve Always Believed That He Was a Great Father.”
I’ve read that Freddie King was born September 3rd in
Gilmer, Texas and also that he was born September
30th in Longview.
“He was born in Gilmer, Texas on the 3rd of Sep-
tember, 1934. He was born Freddie Christian. My father’s
f a t h e r i s n o t t h e s a m e a s m y u n c l e ’s f a t h e r. M y
grandmother’s side of the family, their name is King.
They had a fallout or a family feud, like most things
happen. And he took his mom’s name. To this day I don’t
know if he legally took it or it was just ‘I’m going to be
a King from now on.’ He was a Christian and then he
decided to be a King. And my grandmother married a
Turner and all the other kids were Turners.
“His mother, Ella and his uncle Leon I believe played
guitar, the acoustic or the box guitar. He picked up the
beginning steps of playing from them. I spoke with my
uncle (Bennie Turner, seen playing bass in the 1973
18
video performances here) about that. He said that he
purchased his first guitar, a Roy Rogers guitar, when he
was six or seven. He picked cotton...until he earned
enough money to buy his guitar and then he began to
play more and more. I remember him telling me that
his idol was Louis Jordan. He blew the horn. He listened
to him on the radio on the weekends and tried to match
his blowing with the fingering, with the notes on the gui-
tar.
“My father craved attention to the point where, at
the age of eight he went to the country store and pur-
chased $5 worth of candy and put it on my stepfather’s
tab. And back then, in the country, that was a lot of
money, $5 of candy! He took it to school and in order to
get the kids’ attention, he’d throw candy out: ‘Hey, here’s
some candy!’ They went to Freddie King. ‘Freddie’s got
candy!’ He did these kind of things. He craved atten-
tion.”
So when the candy ran out he picked his guitar.
“That’s it. He always found some way to keep
people’s attention on him.”
When did his family move to Chicago?
“My uncle told me they moved to Chicago in the
winter of ’49, ’50. He was a teenager, but he always
looked older than his actual age. And because he was
so fascinated with the guitar and the night life of Chi-
cago, he could pretty much go to the clubs and they
would let him in. He would work in the steel mill under-
age during the day and at night hit the taverns or the
blues clubs. So his apprenticeship was really sitting in
with the bands and watching different styles. Anyone
from the scene of Chicago of that period, he worked
with ‘em in some form or fashion. Howlin’ Wolf, my uncle
said, took my father under his wing and said, ‘Anything
you want to know, I’ll show you.’ They were friends to
the end until Howlin’ Wolf died. Magic Sam was an ac-
tual neighbor in the apartment flat. I recall when he died,
because it affected my father, he was so upset about it.
“Chicago was still into that Delta (blues style), but
kind of urbanized. My father wanted a break. I think he
tried several times to record for Chess. I’ve heard dif-
19
ferent versions
that he sounded
too much like B.B.
King. The only
likeness to him
was his last name,
King. His style was
more upbeat. He
was more what
they call now
Texas blues style.
He had a jump to
his blues. I don’t
think that fit into
the Chess mental-
i t y. M y f a t h e r
Courtesy of Wanda King

came on the scene


and it’s like,
‘Who’s this young
guy, this maverick
here? He’s a mav-
erick on the scene,
tr ying to give blues more of a contemporary sound.”’
Once your father began to record for King, did he ever
mention Syd Nathan?
“I remember several things just from being in ear-
shot of conversations between my mom and father about
Nathan and how he shorted my father out of his gold
record on Hide Away. He actually made the million
mark, but Nathan didn’t want to pay the IRS on the
count. (laughs) Things like this happen. You make some
money, but you don’t own up to it on paper, ‘cause if
you do, you’ve got to pay the IRS on it. But Nathan
wasn’t completely bad. He bought my father a brand-
new station wagon. They had ‘Freddie King’ in bold blue
and red letters on the side and Hide Away and ‘King
Recording Artist’ written on the side. It was like a mov-
ing neon sign! To me as a child, I said, ‘Wow! This is
beautiful!’ That car was like a moving bus with a neon
sign on it. When you saw it, you knew Freddie King was
in town!

20
“He only had that station wagon a few weeks. Back
then, the situation was that black people couldn’t just
stay anywhere. Instead of trying to find a place to stay,
‘cause you had to go across the tracks, they decided to
hit the road, do the gig and leave. Well, my father was
always a fast driver. It was one of those narrow moun-
tain type highways and there was an oncoming truck
that was weaving. He tried to avoid the truck and went
out of control. He smashed the station wagon up against
this mountain. The station wagon hit with such force
against the mountainside, it popped off the mountain
and was getting ready to take off on the side of the drop.
My father was trying to control the car. The door on the
passenger side flies open and my uncle Bennie is about
to fall out of the car. So my father grabs him. And they
had a little poodle in the car and my Uncle Bennie grabs
the poodle. So it’s like a train of three. He’s trying to
pull ‘em both back in the car. He finally gets ‘em both
back in there. When he gets the car settled down and
stopped, he realizes that he’s totaled his car. He’s only
had this car a month. So he called Nathan and told
Nathan what happened. Nathan sent him another car,
but he paid for this one.
“My mom got frustrated with the whole lifestyle of
the Chicago scene. My father, he was a partier. My mom
didn’t drink, she wasn’t a partier, but she loved my fa-
ther. She called herself leaving my father to give him a
wake-up call. She made her way back to Texas where
she’s originally from as well. My mom was always the
type of person who wouldn’t say anything until she got
ticked off. Once she got mad, you couldn’t stop her from
saying what she wanted to say. So she made a call up
to Cincinnati and told Syd Nathan that she wanted to
buy a home in Dallas. She felt like that he owed my
father something for all the money he’s made. So she
just went off on Nathan and told him that he had used
him and deserved something more than what he gave
‘em. My understanding is that he sent down a couple of
thousand dollars for a down payment on a home. And
my father moved back home. That was in ’62. He was
already known in Dallas, ‘cause he had traveled on like
the chitlin circuit, but when he finally came here with
his family, he said, ‘This is it. I’m going to stay here.’
21
Courtesy of Wanda King

“My father always had a unique way of getting along


with everybody. It was hard to dislike him. When I say
that, I mean among the whites. Once he went to Okla-
homa and I think because of car problems they were
stopped in the middle of the night and they thought for
sure they were goners because, you know, we’re talk-
ing about the South. These guys came along and they
thought they were going to have problems and prob-
ably would have, but this one guy realized that my fa-
ther could play a guitar. So he told my father and the
22
band to follow him back to the city and they could get
their car fixed. My father was skeptical of the situation
and wasn’t quite comfortable, but once he got back to
the city, one of the white guys asked him: ‘Why don’t
you come over to the bar and show me what you can
do? You say you can play the guitar, huh?’ I guess he
didn’t believe him. So they went to this club: ‘We got a
guy who claims he can play the guitar.’ And my father
got up there and star ted playing something like
Remington Ride, that’s a Countr y & Wester n tune!
(laughs) And just blew ‘em away! And this guy, from
that point on, whenever Freddie King came through
town, he was there. Couldn’t nothing keep him away
from Freddie King. This was when he began playing
(Tulsa’s) Cain’s Ballroom and Cain’s Ballroom was al-
most officially Country & Western. That was like, you
know, cowboy land! but when he came to town, he was
welcome with open arms at Cain’s Ballroom. He was
not your typical bluesman.
“The unique thing about was father’s music, it was
unheard of, a bluesman traveling with people like
Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. A revue along with
maybe the Shirelles. Back then they had revues. The
would have maybe ten people on the show, everyone a
number one draw. So on this show amongst all the so-
called pop entertainers would be Freddie King, who fit
right in with ‘em. He also did a lot of concerts and col-
lege things. I remember a lot of college engagements.
To me that was unique. Unlike anyone else, he could
always get a gig on the college scene. I think he cre-
ated envy and jealousy. He got that from the other
bluesmen, because they couldn’t get to that level. He
had just expanded his horizons, that’s all.”
Did your father ever talk about other bluesmen?
“Oh, he loved ‘em. He loved B.B. King and Albert
King. I think the greatest respect that he could pay them
was the fact that he would record their songs. I know
my mom told me a story about when they were per-
forming, T-Bone Walker and Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy
Waters and my father. It was like a big blues revue. And,
of course, my father had probably recorded a song by
everyone of them. So T-Bone Walker looked back and
23
saw my father coming towards the stage. He said, ‘Oh,
man! You better get out there quick before Freddie King
gets there, ‘cause he’ll take your song and keep it!’
(laughs) And to my father that was the funniest thing,
‘cause he didn’t realize that they felt that way. They were
teasing, but still you felt some sincerity in the state-
ment. Once Freddie King plays it, it’s no longer yours.
So you better get up there and play your song first, beat
him to it.”
What was your father doing at the time of his appear-
ances on The!!!!Beat?
“He had kind of fell back down to the local scene,
traveling around the areas of Texas and Oklahoma, back
and forth. That’s how he got on The!!!!Beat and was on
there so many times. It was because of The!!!!Beat that
people like Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs got their first
opportunity to see the blues with a jump, with a con-
temporar y style. Steve Miller would come over quite
often looking for my father. And my mom would say,
‘Well, son, I’m sorry. He’s not here.’ So one Saturday
my father’s in the bed asleep. He’d just come in from
playing at one of the local clubs. And Steve Miller and
this other guy that I later learned was Boz Scaggs were
at the door and they said, ‘Is Freddie King here?’ And
my mom said, ‘My God, they’re here again!’ So she goes
back to the bedroom and says, ‘Freddie, will you please
come see what these boys want?’ So he gets up and
goes in there and Steve was saying something like he’s
tr ying to learn to play the guitar and he wanted to see if
he could show him a few things on the guitar.”
Did your father have a special ‘home base’ club in
Dallas?
“There were a club called the Ascot Room, which
changed its name to the Empire Room. The Bridgeport.
They played the Longhorn Ballroom, which was also
known for years as a Country & Western place. In the
’70s, a couple of hippies opened this club, Mother Blues.
They were Freddie King fanatics and they said, ‘Freddie
King, you play here a few nights.’ So from the first night
until the day it closed, Freddie King was the biggest
draw. That’s where I first saw Stevie Ray and Jimmie
24
Vaughn. They were a little older than me, but they were
still kids. These guys cut their teeth on Freddie King’s
music. There was this black booking agent and what he
would do when my father was not in the area to catch
him doing this, he
would take Jimmie out
to these clubs in little
out-of-the way towns
like Sherman and
Greenville, Texas. He’d
take him to these black
clubs and have him
per form as Freddie
K i n g , J r. O f c o u r s e
once he got there, they
knew he wasn’t Freddie
King! But he played the
songs close enough to
Freddie that they didn’t
complain too much.
“Upstairs at Mother
Blues, they had a gam-
bling room where they
played poker. My father
Burton Wilson

was a gambler. From


day one, even in Chi-
cago, he gambled. And
the owner (of Mother
Blues) was a gambler. And there were nights when he
would actually own the club, because the owner lost the
bet and lost the club to him. He would be the owner of
Mother Blues for months at a time, then the guy would
say, ‘Well, I need my club, Freddie.’ He’d say, ‘OK, man,
we’ll make this deal.’ And it would go back and forth.
They called it ‘Mother Blues, the Club That Freddie King
Built.’ It was closed right after my father died.”
When did he start touring Europe?
“His first tour I think was in ’69. He really got a kick
behind it. I saw a new look on my father, he just took on
a whole new style once he came back from England. He
didn’t know that he was that popular. I think he began
to realize the rotation of fans from black to white that
25
the blues were taking. Blues was no longer a black mu-
sic. If he didn’t know it during the King era, when he
created a whole different type of blues, he knew it once
he went to England. These young white guys like Eric
Clapton and Mick Taylor were showing up at the clubs.
He had an influence across the board overseas. I was
watching Good Mor ning, America and this rhythm &
blues singer from England, Paul Rodgers, says his in-
fluence as a singer was Freddie King. I’m saying, ‘He
doesn’t even play the guitar!’
“His first tour overseas was like in ’69 and he was
still wearing that pompadour. When he came back, he
was wearing a natural and shocked the heck out of us!
(laughs) I said, ‘My God, my father’s gone black!’ James
Brown at that time was being hush-hushed on the Ed
Sullivan Show for doing Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m
Proud and doing the black power sign. And my father
came back from overseas with an Afro! Shocked the
heck out of us. At one point he spent more time over
there than he did in the United States.”
When he was home with his family, what did Freddie
King enjoy?
“His thing was fishing. He just totally enjoyed fish-
ing. I would go out to the lake with him and my brothers
and my mom (King had seven children). When we didn’t
go, he would go out there with the band boys. They
would fish for 24 hours at a time, then he would bring
home a hundred or more fish. He would bring home this
humongous basket of fish and he would tell us, ‘All right,
girls, y’all clean the fish.’ Then he would turn around
after we’d cleaned the fish, gutted them and everything,
he would give ‘em out to the neighbors. So the neigh-
bors loved my father.
“He had this thing about westerns! I think that car-
ried over from his childhood. He used to tell me how on
Saturday afternoons he and his brother would go to the
country theater, the movie house. And back then they
couldn’t sit down on the bottom. They had a balcony.
And there was one particular time of day that they could
go to see the westerns, the matinee. His favorite person
was Smiley Burnette. Everytime a western came on and
Smiley Burnette was in it, he’d point him out to me:
26
‘That’s Smiley Burnette! That’s him right there!’ And I
think he was fascinated with the code of ethics of the
cowboy. Fair play; do the best you can. I think that’s
how he carried himself through life.
“I believe that’s why he loved Country & Western
music. On Saturday afternoon when Buck Owens and
Porter Wagoner hit the scene, Dolly Parton, he was the
first one who told me: ‘You know that little girl right
there? That girl can sing!’ I said, ‘No, she can’t!’ He says,
‘’That little white girl can sing!’ (laughs) He would sit
there and point out people: ‘That fellow right there can
play the guitar. That fellow there, he’s going to be some-
thing.’ And these were Country & Western people.
“I’ve always believed that he was a great father. He
was a disciplinarian, which means that you pretty much
had to do what he said on the first try. There were no
second chances. He took time with us, the (four) girls
and the (three) boys. He was down to earth and most of
his friends were everyday people. He was very open
hearted. He could be generous up to a point, but he
wasn’t generous to a fault. He didn’t believe in buying
friendship. He was a high caliber talent. I believe he was
one of the greatest, if not the greatest actual blues player
as far as the guitar is concerned. It’s great to know that,
after 18 years, he still has that power.”
Courtesy of Wild Oak Pictures

27
A S ELECTED F REDDIE K ING
D ISCOGRAPHY /V IDEOGRAPHY
R ECORDINGS
Blues Guitar Hero: The Influential Early Sessions
Ace CDCHD 454
Freddy King Sings / The Original Hits
Modern Blues Recordings 722
Freddy King / Just Pickin'
(Includes the complete recordings from
Let's Hide Away and Dance Away and
Freddy King Gives You A Bonanza
Of Instrumentals)
Modern Blues Recordings 721
Freddy King / Blues Guitar Hero
Ace Records 454
Let's Hide Away and Dance Away
King 773
Hide Away: The Best of Freddy King
Rhino R271510
Woman Across The River
Shelter/DCC 5034
Freddie King Is a Blues Master
Atlantic 7 90345-2

V IDEOS
Freddie King in Concert
Vestapol 13010
Freddie King, Dallas, Tx 1973
Vestapol 13028
Freddie King Live At The Sugarbowl
Bestapol 13072

Many thanks to Mary Katherine Aldin, Bill “Hoss”


Allen, Daniel Cooper and Wanda King for their help
in putting together these notes.

28
Photo by
Anton Joseph Mikofsk
y

29
“He taught me just about
e v e r y t h in g I n e e d e d t o
know...when and when not
to make a stand...when and
when not to show your
hand...and most important of
all...how to make love to a
guitar.” — ERIC CLAPTON
Freddie King, hard-
driving and perhaps driven,
was only 42 when he died
on December 28, 1976. The
intensity of the per30form-
ances in this video suggest
an artist who burned at full
throttle every time he
played. Guitarists as diverse as Eric Clapton, Michael Bloomfield
and Jerry Garcia have cited King as a formative influence. Most
of the clips in this collection come from a unique time warp, a
fleeting moment when Southern R&B collided with mid-60s
“Mod” and rendered a show called THE!!!!BEAT.
THE!!!!BEAT’S 26 show run in 1966 may have been ahead
of its time. The time it brings us is one when television program-
ming for black audiences was otherwise nonexistent and blues
remained a powerful force in Southern black popular music.
Freddie King was 31 at the time of THE!!!!BEAT, playing and
singing in prime form. This video collection presents all of
Freddie King’s appearances from this unique series. The video
concludes with three tunes performed in Sweden in 1973 and
shows Freddie’s artistic growth.
FROM THE!!!!BEAT, 1966
1. Funny Bone • 2. Have You Ever Loved A Woman • 3. San-Ho-
Zay • 4. I’m Tore Down • 5. Hide Away • 6. I Love The Woman
7. Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag • 8. See See Baby • 9. Sitting
On The Boatdock • 10. Shuffle • 11. She Put The Whammy
On Me • 12. San-Ho-Zay • 13. Funny Bone • 14. Hide Away
FROM SWEDEN, 1973
15. Have You Ever Loved A Woman
16. Blues Band Shuffle • 17. Big Leg Woman
® 2001 Vestapol Productions / A division of Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop Inc.
ISBN: 1-57940-903-2 Front Photograph hand tinted by Diane Painter
Running Time: 60 minutes • Color
Duplicated in SP Mode/Real Time Duplication
Representation to Music Stores by Mel Bay Publications
Nationally distributed by Rounder Records,
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MA 02140
0 1 1 6 7 1 30149 5 VESTAPOL 13014
30