December 29, 1976 – Freddie King was born September 3, 1934 in Gilmer, Texas. His mother told him that her father (who was a full-blooded Choctaw Indian) prophesied to her that she would have a child that will stir the souls of millions and inspire and influence generations. So she mother and his uncle Leon began teaching him to play guitar at the age of six.
His first guitar was a Silvertone acoustic. His most prized guitar at that time was his Roy Roger acoustic. In a interview years later he recalled going to the general store to order it. The store owner asked him if his mother knew he was trying to order a guitar on her store account. Freddie replied ” no”. The store owner told him to get permission. His mother said “no”. She told him, “if you want a new guitar you will have to work for it.” He stated that he picked cotton just long enough to earn the money to purchase a Roger’s guitar.
By 1949 three of Freddie’s uncles, Felix , Leonard and Willie King had already moved to Chicago. They were earning good money working in the steel mill. The family moved to the South Side of Chicago in 1949, where he immediately started sneaking into clubs featuring Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, and Sonny Boy Williamson.
By 1952 Freddie had met and married a Texas girl, Jessie Burnett. She proved to be the foundation and maturity he needed to stay the course. She also would be the inspiration and co-contributor to some of his compositions.
He played with bands such as The Sonny Cooper Band and Early Payton’s Blues Cats and then formed his first band Every Hour Blues Boys with guitarist Jimmy Lee Robinson and drummer Sonny Scott. As the 1950s went on, King worked in the steel mill and played with several of Muddy Waters’s sidemen and other Chicago mainstays, including guitarists Jimmy Rogers, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Eddie Taylor, Hound Dog Taylor, bassist Willie Dixon, pianist Memphis Slim, and harpist Little Walter.
He perfected his own guitar style based on Texas and Chicago influences and was one of the first bluesmen to have a multi-racial backing band on stage with him at live performances.
King was repeatedly rejected in auditions for the South Side’s Chess Records, the premier blues label, which was home to Muddy, Wolf, and Walter. The complaint was that Freddie King sang too much like B.B. King. Meanwhile, King established himself as perhaps the biggest musical force on the West Side of the city.
In 1960 King signed with Federal Records, a subsidiary of King Records, and recorded his first single for the label, “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” in August of 1960. The single appeared the following month and became a minor hit, scraping the bottom of the pop charts in early 1961. It was followed by “Hide Away,” the song that would become Freddie King’s signature tune and most influential recording. “Hide Away” was adapted by King and Magic Sam from a Hound Dog Taylor instrumental and named after one of the most popular bars in Chicago. The single was released as the B-side of “I Love the Woman” (his singles featured a vocal A-side and an instrumental B-side) in the fall of 1961 and it became a major hit, reaching number five on the R&B charts and number 29 on the pop charts. 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.
King’s first album, Freddy King Sings, appeared in 1961, and it was followed later that year by Let’s Hide Away and Dance Away With Freddy King: Strictly Instrumental. Throughout 1961, he turned out a series of instrumentals — including “San-Ho-Zay,” “The Stumble,” and “I’m Tore Down” — which became blues classics; everyone from Magic Sam and Stevie Ray Vaughan to Dave Edmunds and Peter Green covered King’s material. “Lonesome Whistle Blues,” “San-Ho-Zay,” and “I’m Tore Down” all became Top Ten R&B hits that year.
He continued to record for King Records until 1968, with a second instrumental album (Freddy King Gives You a Bonanza of Instrumentals) appearing in 1965, although none of his singles became hits. Nevertheless, his influence was heard throughout blues and rock guitarists throughout the ’60s — Eric Clapton made “Hide Away” his showcase number in 1965. King signed with Atlantic/Cotillion in late 1968, releasing Freddie King Is a Blues Masters the following year and My Feeling for the Blues in 1970; both collections were produced by King Curtis. After their release, Freddie King and Atlantic/Cotillion parted ways.
King landed a new record contract with Leon Russell’s Shelter Records early in 1970. King recorded three albums for Shelter in the early ’70s, all of which sold well. In addition to respectable sales, his concerts were also quite popular with both blues and rock audiences. In 1974, he signed a contract with RSO Records — which was also Eric Clapton’s record label — and he released Burglar, which was produced and recorded with Clapton. Following the release of Burglar, King toured America, Europe, and Australia. In 1975, he released his second RSO album, Larger Than Life.
Throughout 1976, Freddie King toured America, even though his health was beginning to decline. On December 29, 1976, King died of heart failure. Although his passing was premature — he was only 42 years old — Freddie King’s influence could still be heard in blues and rock guitarists decades after his death.