Freddy King - Sen-Sa-Shun
Mr. Freddy King
When I was a kid, my knowledge today’s artist was limited to the following: “Up all night with Freddy King! I got to tell you, poker’s his thing!” See: Railroad, Grand Funk “We’re an American Band” 1973 There, via the bare-chested wailing of Mark Farner my eleven year old ears first heard the name of one of the greatest, most influential blues artists of all time. Unfortunately my frame of reference was very narrow, and as far as I was concerned ‘Freddy King” was every bit as fictitious as the “hotel detective” or “Sweet Sweet Connie” (neither of whom as it turns out was fictitious). Some years down the road, I had the great good fortune to meet one of my all-time best friends, future band-mates and an all around righteous dude, the Bluesman. He got that nickname, not for his Smurf-like qualities, but for the fact that he was as deeply immersed in the blues as anyone I had met until that time. Around 1987 or so, Bluesman made me a stack of cassettes, that were my first serious introduction to the likes of – among others - Slim Harpo and Mr. Freddy King, both of whom have remained lifelong favorites. For this I shall be forever grateful. Freddy King was born in 1934 in Texas. His family moved to Chicago in 1950, where he had the chance to hear, and play with some of the greatest bluesmen of the day. He played background on a number of sessions, before making his first record under his own name in 1957. He signed with the King records subsidiary Federal in 1960 and in 1961 had a string of hits – both vocal and instrumental – that would make him a star. Over the next few years he would record a number of classic tunes, including ‘Hide Away’, which would become a favorite number of Eric Clapton (one of many young guitarists heavily influenced by King) who recorded the number as a member of John Mayall’s Blues Breakers. King, like Albert Collins, Buddy Guy and Albert King (no relation) was a guitarist that transcended genres and would provide a blueprint for an entire generation of younger players, including the mighty Jimi Hendrix. Over the course of the last few weeks I’ve mentioned the DVD re-release of the 1960’s TV show ‘The Beat’. One of the highlights of the discs is the appearances on the show by Freddy King (in fact a few years back someone released a compilation composed entirely of King’s performances from the show). Hearing Freddy King is one thing. Seeing him is something else entirely. King was a big dude. So big that his guitar took on ukulele-like proportions cradled in his huge hands. Watching him performing today’s selection ‘Sen-Sa-Shun’ on ‘The Beat’, bending the strings, pouring sweat, conk piled high on his head is a real thrill. I can only imagine what he must have looked like dominating the bandstand in a smoky bar somewhere. ‘Sen-Sa-Shun’ - which was released in mid-1961 - bursts out of the starting gate at a fast tempo. Led by King’s guitar, the band wails, creating a groove built to satisfy blues fans and au-go-go twisters alike. Like many a Texas bluesman, King’s playing had both a hard urban edge and a country twang to it, making for a Chuck Berry-like fusion that could hopscotch between genres without being obvious about it. It’s not hard to see why his sounds translated so well to the dance floors of UK clubs, or why so many rock guitarists gravitated to (and imitated) his style. King would continue to record for Federal and King until 1968. He was then signed to Atlantic/Cotillion where he would record two LPs, both produced by King Curtis (45 heads should keep an eye out for the Cotillion 45 ‘Funky’, which is excellent). After leaving he moved to Leon Russell’s Shelter records where he would record two LPs (one a live album recorded at Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters). He had a heavy touring schedule, benefiting from kind of blues/rock co-billing that had become so popular in the era of the psychedelic ballrooms, playing festivals and sharing stages with the likes of Grand Funk Railroad. His last LPs were recorded for the RSO label, and he passed away in 1976, suffering from heart failure. Fortunately much of his best work is available on reissues, and is of course highly recommended.