Guitar Aficionado

Playlist: Freddie King

One of the three “Kings” of blues guitar (alongside B.B. and Albert), Freddie King’s playing was a huge influence on artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck and in particular Eric Clapton
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By Richard Bienstock

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One of the three “Kings” of blues guitar (alongside B.B. and Albert), Freddie King’s playing was a huge influence on artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, and, in particular Eric Clapton, who has covered several of the bluesman’s signature songs throughout his career.

Born in Texas in 1934, King was a large man with a big sound—his nickname, fittingly, was the Texas Cannonball. He started his career in the early Fifties in Chicago, and by the end of the decade had hooked up with Federal Records, for whom he would cut his most famous and influential sides, usually with the help of his red Gibson ES-345, throughout the Sixties. He continued to record and tour heavily until his death, at the age of 42, in 1976.

Below, Guitar Aficionado highlights four of the Cannonball’s greatest performances.

“Hide Away”
(Let’s Hide Away and Dance with Freddy King, 1961)

A virtual blues lick library and an irrefutable standard of the genre. King had credited everyone from Robert Jr. Lockwood to Hound Dog Taylor for some of the ideas in “Hide Away” (and even lifted a bit from the “Peter Gunn Theme”), but the style is pure Texas Cannonball. Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan recorded well known takes on the song, but the original remains the best, as demonstrated by King in this 1966 performance on The Beat:

"You’ve Got to Love Her With a Feeling"
(Freddy King Sings, 1961)

This Tampa Red tune has been tackled by many bluesmen, but King’s version stands as perhaps the definitive take. King’s rendition is highlighted by an incredibly smooth vocal, and also a solo that incorporates quickly picked phrases, choked, staccato notes and an expert use of space. Released as the B-side to the single “Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” “Feeling” became the bigger hit, reaching No. 92 on the Billboard charts in 1961.

"The Stumble"
(Let’s Hide Away and Dance with Freddy King, 1961)

King crafted several thrilling instrumentals in addition to “Hide Away” (see “San-Ho-Zay,” “Sen-Sa-Shun,” et al.), but for sheer guitar-playing pleasure we’ll single out “The Stumble” as the one to start with. Its bouncy beat and lyrical guitar phrases, highlighted by smooth and sliding doublestops, inspired covers from the likes of Jeff Beck, Peter Green, and Gary Moore, among many others.

"Going Down"
(Getting Ready..., 1971)

King positively wails both vocally and on guitar on this incendiary blues dating from the period when he hooked up with Leon Russell's Shelter label. His tone is unusually dirty and stinging here, and the piercing attack is emphasized by plenty of screaming high note bends and a sharp vibrato.

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