This is The Turnaround with Rev. Zach Chandler, where, every week, we’ll be breaking down a different aspect of the blues for a deeper understanding of the music, culture, and people that are the blues. For the next several weeks, we’ll be examining some of the most influential bluesmen of the last century to try to understand where the blues comes from. As an art form centered around expression, the personalities around it are part of what makes this music so special.
Last week, we invoked one who is arguably the fourth king of the blues, the Devil.
This week, we’ll resume the official three with Freddie King.
Here’s what we know: Freddie King was born on September 3, 1934 in Dallas, TX to Ella Mae King and J.T. Christian. In 1949, his family moved to Chicago as part of the Great Migration movement, in which millions of people moved from the rural South to northern industrial cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland.
King’s draw to the blues happened very early on in his life. His mother and uncle taught him to play the guitar when he was six years old. As soon as the family moved to the South Side of Chicago, he started watching bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. At eighteen years old, he was playing the circuit and recording with local blues bands. In 1961, he recorded his first big hit, the instrumental “Hide Away”, which hit number five on Billboard R&B chart and number twenty-nine on the Pop chart.
Through most of the 1960’s, Freddie King toured with R&B legends like James Brown and Jackie Wilson. In 1968, King was signed to Atlantic Records and through the early 70’s he played alongside popular rock and roll bands like Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad, and Eric Clapton.
Freddie King was always on the road. He toured nearly 300 days a year, playing shows everywhere and partying like a rock star, living on a steady diet of Bloody Marys In 1976, it caught up to him all at once and his health absolutely went to hell. He died on December 28, 1976 at 42 years old.
Freddie King and his guitar were a two-piece act. He made his guitar sing the blues with an almost vocal style. His sound was more modern than many of his contemporaries in Chicago and he brought the blues to the next generation because of it. In 2012, King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an Early Influence.
In honor of Freddie King’s party-hardy lifestyle, I’d suggest a pairing with the perfect hair-of-the-dog concoction: the Bloody Mary. My buddy, Jim Kleiser would be ashamed if I recommended using anything but Tito’s Vodka, which also ties in with King’s Texan roots. Just make sure to get some real food in you too.
Listen to Freddie King's "Have You Ever Loved A Woman"