Personalities | Freddie King | Bringing Blues to Rock | Guitar Heroes

Freddie (sometimes spelled Freddy) King (1934–76) revitalized the Chicago blues scene in the 1960s. His aggressive playing and piercing solos helped to set up the blues-rock movement, and he was a major influence on 1960s British guitarists like Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor.

King’s mother taught him to play guitar as a child in Gilmer, Texas, where he was born. In 1950, the family moved to Chicago, and he was soon immersing himself in the thriving blues scene. From guitarist Jimmy Rogers, he learned a thumb-and-index-finger picking technique that he modified by using a plastic thumb pick and a steel fingerpick that added to his keening technique. He also incorporated the country blues stylings he had grown up with, along with a Texas swagger that gave his playing a raucous edge.

But it was hard for King and other young radicals like Buddy Guy and Otis Rush to break into a blues scene dominated by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and harder still to get a record deal. When he finally landed one in 1960, he had a stack of material ready, and at his first session, he cut ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’ and the instrumental ‘Hideaway’, which was a Top 5 rhythm and blues hit and even made the pop Top 30. Both songs would be recorded by Eric Clapton (with Derek & The Dominos) and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

King’s albums of snazzy, catchy instrumentals, Let’s Hide Away And Dance Away With Freddy King (1961) and Freddy King Gives You A Bonanza Of Instrumentals (1965), were highly prized items among British guitarists in search of covers. Clapton’s successor in The Bluesbreakers, Peter Green, picked ‘The Stumble’, and his successor, Mick Taylor, opted for ‘Remington Ride’, while Chicken Shack’s Stan Webb picked ‘San-Ho-Zay’.

Not surprisingly, King started making regular tours of Britain, where his disciples were happy to sing his praises, and though the hit records had dried up by the mid-1960s, his guitar prowess continued to develop, courtesy of his stinging vibrato, lyrical lines and astute phrasing, and he remained a top live attraction on both sides of the Atlantic. Clapton produced Burglar (1974), but King was suffering health problems, and in 1976, at the age of 42, he suffered a fatal heart attack, brought on by bleeding ulcers.

Essential Recordings

Solo: Let’s Hide Away And Dance Away With Freddy King

Solo: Freddy King Gives You A Bonanza Of Instrumentals

Solo: Getting Ready

Solo: Burglar

Personalities | Mark Knopfler | Dire Straits to Master | Guitar Heroes


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