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Freddie King Biography

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Freddie King (September 3, 1934 – December 28, 1976) was an influential American blues guitarist and singer, best known for his recordings "Hide Away", "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" and "Going Down".

King was born Frederick Christian in Gilmer, Texas on September 3, 1934. His mother was Ella May King, his father J.T. Christian. His mother and her brother, who both played the guitar, began teaching Freddie to play at the age of six. He liked and imitated the music of Lightnin' Hopkins and saxophonist Louis Jordan.

He moved with his family from Texas to the southside of Chicago in 1950. There, at age 16 he used to sneak in to local clubs, where he heard blues music performed by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, and Sonny Boy Williamson. Howlin' Wolf took him under his wing, and Freddie also began jamming with Muddy Waters' sidemen, who included Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Rogers, Robert Lockwood Jr. and Little Walter.

By 1952 he had married a Texas girl, Jessie Burnett. He gigged at night and worked days in a steel mill. He got occasional work as a sideman on recording sessions. Two bands that he played with during this period were the Sonny Cooper Band, and Early Payton's Blues Cats. He formed the first band of his own, the Every Hour Blues Boys, with guitarist Jimmy Lee Robinson and drummer Sonny Scott.

In 1953 he made some recordings for Parrot. In 1956 he recorded "Country Boy", a duet with Margaret Whitfield, and "That's What You Think", an uptempo blues. This was for a local label, El-Bee. Robert Lockwood Jr. appeared as a sideman on guitar.

In 1959 he met Sonny Thompson, a pianist who worked for the King/Federal label. In 1960, he himself signed with that label; while there he often shared songwriting credits, and participated in marathon recording sessions, with Thompson. On August 26, 1960, he recorded "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" and "Hide Away", which were to become two of his most popular tunes. His debut release for the label was "You've Got To Love Her with Feeling". His second release on King/Federal was "I Love the Woman". "Hide Away" was used as the B-side for this disk; that tune, a 12-bar mid-tempo shuffle in E with an infectious theme in the head section, and a memorable stop-time break that featured some robust-sounding work on the bass strings, was destined to become one of his signiature numbers. It was an adaptation of a tune by Hound Dog Taylor. It was named "Hide Away" after a popular bar in Chicago. Strictly an instrumental -- guitar with rhythm section -- it delighted everyone by crossing over and reaching #29 on the US pop chart. It was later covered by Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Canadian guitarist Jeff Healy, among others.

After the success of "Hide Away", the label, which was presided over by Syd Nathan, got Freddie and Sonny Thompson to work on making more instrumentals. This they did, producing over 30 of them during the next five years. These would include "The Stumble", "Low Tide," "Wash Out," "Sidetracked", "San-Ho-Zay," "Heads Up," "Onion Rings," and "The Sad Nite Owl". Freddie became popular with a young white audience, in Britain as well as the United States, and his playing was a major influence on the upcoming breed of rock guitarists. He also recorded vocal material including "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" by songwriter Billy Myles. During this period he was touring frequently along with the big R&B acts of the day such as Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, James Brown. His band included his brother Benny Turner on bass; and Tyrone Davis, who would later become known in his own right, was the driver and valet.

On the personal side, Freddie was fond, perhaps overly fond, of the Chicago night life. His official website refers to him "Gambling til dawn in the backroom of Mike's cleaners." His wife, now with six children, decided to move back to Texas. Once there, she called Syd Nathan and demanded that he send her some of the royalty money due to her husband. To his credit, he sent her two thousand dollars, with which she made the down payment on a house. Realising that the family were definitely not coming back to Chicago, Freddie, in the spring of 1963, himself moved back to Texas to rejoin them.

His contract with King/Federal expired in 1966. That same year, while making a series of appearances on an R&B program called "The!!!Beat", he was noticed by Atlantic Records front man King Curtis, and in 1968 he signed with the Atlantic subsidiary, Cotillion Records. He released two records for them (see Recordings), both of which showcased his vocal talents. They were not overwhelming commercial successes; however, his first overseas tour, in 1967, was a resounding triumph, being extended from one month to three. He was "amazed by his popularity in England."1

In 1969 he hired a young member of the "counter culture", Jack Calmes, to be his manager. Calmes got him booked at the 1969 Texas Pop Festival, alongside Led Zeppelin and others; and got him signed to Leon Russell's new label, Shelter Records. Shelter records was based in Oklahoma, and featured blues/rock performers such as J.J. Cale and Tom Petty. The company treated Freddie as an important artist, flying him to Chicago to the former Chess studios for the recording of his first album, and giving him a supporting cast of top-calibre session musicians -- including Russell, a rock pianist. Three albums made during Shelter period are considered generally as fairly good. They include many covers of blues classics but also some new songs, including "Big Legged Woman" and Don Nix's "Going Down". Most of new material was written by Russell.

As were many of the top bluesmen of his generation, he was now playing what he affectionately called the "Fillmore circuit", playing alongside the big rock acts of the day for a young, mainly white, audience. As a result of his touring with Eric Clapton, the two became good friends -- Clapton held him in very high esteem -- and following his term at Shelter Records, Freddie signed with the label Clapton was recording for, RSO. His first album there, Burglar, was produced by Clapton, and had him playing on several tracks. The album was a disappointment for many fans, since it did not contain much straight blues material.

He continued to tour heavily. He died in Dallas in 1976 from a heart attack and complications arising from bleeding ulcers and pancreatitis. He was just 42 years of age.

King played with a plastic thumb pick and a metal index-finger pick. He credited Eddie Taylor with having taught him the use of the picks. King's style of wearing his strap on his right shoulder, while being right handed, was unique for the time. Freddie King was one of the premier artists of the West side Chicago blues scene of the 1950s and 1960s, the definitive time location for electric blues.

His instrumental "Hide Away", recorded in 1961, was later covered by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton. It was also covered by Stevie Ray Vaughan. King had a strong influence on blues-rock musicians such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Ronnie Earl, Jerry Garcia, Peter Green, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and John Mayer. Other notable instrumentals include "The Stumble" and "San Ho Zay (Smokin')".

In 2003 Freddie King was placed 25th in Rolling Stone's list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

Final words from the Freddie King website:
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