Denny Freeman – an Austin, Texas-based guitarist who played with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmie Vaughan, Bob Dylan, and more – has died at the age of 76. Multiple close friends confirmed his death, which came just weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer.
Born in Orlando, Florida on August 7, 1944 and raised in Dallas, Freeman first moved to Austin in 1970. Having played in a rock band called the Corals in Dallas, Freeman quickly helped put together a group called Paul Ray & the Cobras once in Austin. In the mid-1970s, an up-and-coming young blues guitarist by the name of Stevie Ray Vaughan joined the Cobras, and began sharing lead guitar duties with Freeman.
As Stevie Ray – along with his brother, Jimmie Vaughan, and his Fabulous Thunderbirds – put Austin and its blossoming blues scene on the map in the late 1970s and early '80s, Freeman became a member of the house band at Antone's, a legendary club that served as the scene's epicenter.
At Antone's, Freeman backed up a laundry list of blues guitar greats, including Albert Collins, Otis Rush, Lazy Lester, and Hubert Sumlin. All the while, Freeman remained close with the Vaughan brothers, even living with them for a time, prompting Freeman to joke – once he had become one of the world's premier blues guitarists – that Stevie Ray still owed him $30 in back rent.
Later on, Freeman played piano with James Cotton and Jimmie Vaughan, and spent a number of years in Taj Mahal's touring band after moving to Los Angeles in 1992.
Additionally, Freeman worked with soul legend Percy Sledge and fellow blues great Doyle Bramhall, and even co-wrote Blondie's 1999 track, “Boom Boom in the Zoom Zoom Room.”
Freeman's most high-profile gig, however, came in 2005, when he joined Bob Dylan's backing band. Lending guitar work to Dylan's hugely acclaimed, chart-topping 2006 album, Modern Times, Freeman remained with Dylan until 2009, playing hundreds of shows with the iconic songwriter on his Never Ending Tour.
All the while, Freeman also maintained a prolific solo output, releasing seven genre-blending albums under his own name.
In a 2006 remembrance of Antone's owner Clifford Antone, journalist and record executive Bill Bentley said that Antone once said to him, “Denny Freeman was the greatest guitarist alive and it wasn't fair that every single person didn't know it.”
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Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.