Hailing from Gilmer, Texas, Freddie King held his own with B. B. King, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, and other masters of the electric blues. In the cauldron of the early seventies Austin scene, “The Texas Cannonball” was the local ambassador of the blues, schooling young hippies at Armadillo World Headquarters and other legendary venues. Remembered in Texas as a kind giant with an armadillo bursting from his chest, King delivered the goods until his tank ran dry in 1976.
Although originally from Texas (born in Dallas), his family moved to the South Side of Chicago when he was six. That same year the youngster began learning to play rural country blues under the tutelage of his mother and uncle, and listening to the likes of Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf and Louis Jordan. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was beginning his journey to “stir the souls of millions and inspire and influence generations”. This prophetic vision, courtesy of his great grandfather, a full-blooded Choctaw, would serve as a driving force in King’s life.
King was a student of the blues, full of grit and determination. He played records over and over, learning and perfecting the smallest licks and details, then put a distinctive Freddie King spin on it all. He developed his thumb and finger picking style of his own, in contrast to B.B. King’s single-string style and the manic slide style of another hero, Elmore James. Other Chicago mainstays helped Freddie hone his craft and carve out his own place in history, including Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and Hound Dog Taylor.
That success didn’t come easy, though. King was repeatedly refused the opportunity to record for the premier South Side blues labels, ultimately bolting for the up and coming West Side scene. There he found his place, and the world finally found Freddie King.
His influence on other artists was as deep as it was wide. He toured with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and James Brown and played alongside such greats as Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mick Taylor and Lonnie Mack. The list of those he influenced is just too long to cover, but his songs were performed by the likes of Magic Sam, Dave Edmunds, Peter Green, and a host of others. It’s a sure bet that a certain South Side label regrets missing Freddie’s mark.
King lived his life like he played his music…fearless, full throttle and larger than life. Ultimately, his body couldn’t take the wear and tear of touring 300 days a year. King left us all too early at the age of forty-two. His legend remains, however, and his presence can still be felt in the work of a hundred guitar greats, both in the blues and rock genres.
Three Things (no, make that six…this guy is a true legend) you should know about Freddie King: (1) he was one of the first bluesmen to have a multi-racial backing band at live performances, (2) in Chicago he married a fellow Texan, Jessie Burnett, (3) he recorded and produced an album with Eric Clapton called “Burglar”, (4) he picked cotton just long enough to earn the money to purchase a good guitar, (5) he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, and (6) he preferred a bloody mary to solid food to save time when setting up for a show.