The Third King Of The Blues

When it comes to the three Kings of the blues – B.B., Albert and Freddie – my database runs the gamut. I know a fair amount about B.B. King, I have a decent acquaintance with Albert King, and until this week, I’ve known almost nothing about Freddie King.

Even though I’ve had a few tracks in the mp3 player for a few years, and even though I’ve got an LP of the best of his work in the early 1960s for the Cincinnati-based Federal label, I’ve never paid much attention to Freddie King. But a few weeks ago, as I poked around the CD stacks in the St. Cloud public library (to be precise, it’s the St. Cloud branch of the Great River Regional Library system), I came across a twenty-track CD on Rhino titled Hideaway: The Best of Freddy King.

The first thing I noticed was the variant in the spelling of King’s first name. The CD notes and All-Music Guide both say that the “Freddy” spelling was used during the earlier portions of King’s career. The first track on the CD that uses “Freddie” is one recorded in 1969 for the album My Feeling for the Blues. There were two other tracks on the CD that used that spelling. And when I used my magnifying glass to read the fine print about the session men for those last two tracks, I saw the names of Leon Russell, Don Preston and Duck Dunn, among others. At that point, things became much more interesting.

That’s because, as much as I love the blues itself, I love even more the music that resulted during the late 1960s and early 1970s when the blues re-intersected with rock: The sessions that Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and B.B. King recorded in London around that time are examples. And so, too, after doing some digging and then listening for the past few days, is the work that Freddie King did for Leon Russell’s Shelter label. (The same will likely be true, when I’ve listened to them more than I have so far, for the two late 1960s albums King recorded on Atlantic with King Curtis producing and the two 1970s albums King recorded for RSO, with Eric Clapton taking part on one.)

The Shelter albums – Getting Ready . . . from 1971, The Texas Cannonball from 1972 and Woman Across the River from 1973 – will have a familiar sound to anyone who’s listened to Leon Russell’s solo work from the same era. Leon’s arrangements and piano work don’t overwhelm King’s guitar or voice, but it seems to me that when listening to even the most basic of blues workouts from the three albums, it would be likely for a rock fan to think, “Gee, that sounds like Leon Russell back there.”

Of the three Shelter albums, Woman Across the River sold best, making it to No. 158 on the Billboard album chart. A single edit of “Going Down” was released from the first Shelter album, Getting Ready . . ., but it didn’t make the charts. It does, however, give an idea of what at least some of the Shelter sessions sounded like.

Freddie King, like B.B. and Albert and other bluesmen, was a pretty solid concert draw among the rock audience in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. But King had his largest chart hit in 1961, when the instrumental “Hide Away” went to No. 29 on the pop chart and No. 5 on the R&B chart. Joel Whitburn notes in the Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B & Hip-Hop Hits that the single was titled after Mel’s Hide Away Lounge in Chicago. And at All-Music Guide, Cub Koda writes, “Throughout the ’60s, ‘Hide Away’ was one of the necessary songs blues and rock & roll bar bands across America and England had to play during their gigs.”

Just as interesting from this chair was King’s 1960 take on “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” which, according to Second Hand Songs, was the first recording of the Billy Myles tune that would become a blues standard. Among the places the tune turned up, of course, was on Derek & The Dominos’ Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs in 1970. And in 1975, a live version would show up on King’s second album for RSO, Larger Than Life. Here’s the 1960 original:

And in the category of things I can’t resist, “The Bossa Nova Watusi Twist” was King’s next-to-last entry on the pop chart, a 1963 record that bubbled under at No. 103.

About That Concert
It turns out – despite Saturday’s post here – that we didn’t have to worry about getting to the Sunday afternoon concert by the Harlem Gospel Choir. We were in fact snowed in, with a total of about eight inches falling from Saturday night through Sunday afternoon. But we had misremembered the date of the concert; it’s this coming Sunday. I’ve rarely been so pleased to be wrong.

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2 Responses to “The Third King Of The Blues”

  1. Paco Malo says:

    Thanks man, now I know something about Freddie King other that one reference in some otherwise forgotten Grand Funk lyrics.

    But I gotta be honest, the combination of musicians, life circumstances, production and mojo that went into Derek and the Dominoes cover of “Have You Even Loved a Woman”, with all due respect to Freddie, still has my heart wrapped in thorns.

    Great damn post, bro’. I learned a lot.

  2. porky says:

    “…up all night, with Freddie King, I got to tell you poker’s his thing….”

    A friend thought the lyrics were “coke is his thing.”

    I love “I’m Tore Down” which Clapton recently tried his hand at. “Going Down” has joined “Mustang Sally” in the blues-band-cliche Hall of Fame.

    I think dusting these guys off and pairing them with whichever British musician was hot at the time was a bad idea. It’s admirable that they lent a hand (and major label muscle) to their influences but the results to me are almost always never satisfying.

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