Since 1934, Texas-born and raised Freddie King already seemed destined for a music career when he first learned how to play the guitar at the age of six years old. His mother and uncle were the key influences in his life that would see him engage as a musical artist, specializing in the blues genre. After moving to Chicago, Illinois in 1949 with his family, King began sneaking into the city’s South Side nightclubs. The musical influence of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and T-Bone Walker, just to name a few, made such an impression on King that he took it upon himself to form his own band.
Every Hour Blues Boys featured himself as the frontman, along with guitarist Jimmie Lee Robinson, and drummer Frank Scott. King performed as the group’s lead vocalist and guitarist. In 1952, while working as a steel mill worker, King also worked as a sideman with various bands. It was also this same year he married fellow Texan, Jessie Burnette. In 1953, he signed up with the label, Parrot Records, but none of the recordings he made at the time were released. Patiently waiting for his big breakthrough, King performed with several band members who performed with many of Chicago’s musical finest in various venues until he finally had his first recording published in 1956. “Country Boy” was a duet he performed with Margaret Whitfield.
Despite the released recording, Freddie King failed to impress Chess Records enough to sign him up. This is the same label specializing in blues music that had a talent roster of Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Muddy Waters. The reason for the rejection was the label felt King sounded too much like B.B. King. South Side Chicago apparently didn’t have room for King so he set his sides to the West Side as the blues scene there was blossoming as a newer version of the popular genre. After King agreed to sign up with Cobra Records, he experienced yet another run of recordings that would not be released by a record label. In the meantime, however, he was establishing himself as one of the most popular musicians on Chicago’s West Side.
In 1960, Syd Nathan of King Records signed Freddie King to its subsidiary label, Federal Records. This would be the year he would record and release his debut single, “Have You Ever Loved a Woman.” On the flip side of the record was “You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling.” He also produced the instrumental single, “Hide Away.” These three songs catapulted Freddie King’s career from mainstream music obscurity to a musical star with top forty hits.
During an era when the white audience was still unfamiliar with rhythm and blues music, King’s accomplishment is what put him in the record books as one of the music industry’s iconic legends. He, along with pianist Sonny Thompson, not only earned a name for themselves from “Hide Away,” but proceeded to record a total of thirty instrumentals, including another hit, “The Stumble.” In addition to instrumental music, King and Thompson recorded and released several vocal tracks. While under the Federal Records label, they toured with many elite R&B artists, including James Brown, Sam Cooke, and Jackie Wilson. This continued until King’s contract with Federal came to an end in 1966.
In 1967, Freddie King toured overseas for the first time. In 1968, producer King Curtis signed the man to Atlantic’s subsidiary label, Colton Records. Curtis, also a saxophonist, had recorded his version of “Hide Away” in 1962 and was more than happy to play a role in the production of 1969’s Freddie King Is a Blues Master and 1970’s My Feeling for the Blues. After Freddie King hired Jack Calmes as his manager, he was secured to appear alongside Led Zeppelin during the 1969 Texas Pop Festival. This resulted in King signing up with a new label, Shelter Records. While with this label, he was flown to Chicago to where Chess Studios used to be so he can record the album, Getting Ready. After it, two more albums were recorded and released that featured a series of blues classics and new musical material.
As a performer and recording artist, King played with many big names in the music industry. It would be during this time his name and music became more familiar among the white audience as he was performing with musicians such as Eric Clapton and Grand Funk Railroad. King’s intuitive music style allowed him to merge vocal nuances with key guitar parts to turn his songs into what was a new breed of blues music at the time.
His unique combination of Texas blues and Chicago-style R&B sounds is what set him apart from the rest of the bands that were still performing blues classics from the 1950s. The younger generation, regardless of skin color, was drawn to King’s brand of blues. That brand started out with a Gibson Les Paul guitar play before shifting to the lineup of Gibson’s electric guitars. The impression of King’s guitaring genius was so great that it played its way into the popular surf music played by bands like The Beach Boys.
Freddie King Legacy
Not long after moving to Chicago from Dallas, Freddie King married fellow Texan, Jessie Burnett, in 1952. Together, they had seven children. As a family man, he wasn’t home often as he spent most of his time on road tours. This schedule eventually took its toll on the man. Starting in 1976, he began to experience painful stomach ulcers. That same year also flooded King with additional health issues he simply wasn’t able to recover from. On December 28, 1976, he passed away at the age of forty-two years old. Among the family and friends who knew him best, it was agreed his partying lifestyle while on the road, plus a poor diet served as catalysts that sent one of the most influential blues artists to an early grave.
In 1982, King was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame before he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. His instrumental hit, “Hide Away” also earned its way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as it was labeled as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock. According to Rolling Stone Magazine publication, Freddie King was recognized as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. “We’re an American Band” was a popular hit single released in 1973 by Grand Funk Railroad that made reference to King in the lyrics. When interviewing some of the greatest guitarists like Eric Clapton, Lonnie Mack, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, they each credit King as their source of inspiration to pick up and learn the instrument themselves.
Aside from his recognition in the music industry, Freddie King was honored on September 3, 1993, by the governor of Texas at the time, Ann Richards. She declared it Freddie King Day, an event that celebrated the legends of Texas music. King was considered one of the pioneering African-American blues musicians that did more than just embrace British blues music when it started to become popular during the 1960s. Through his genius electric guitar performances, he often mixed American and British blues styles in a manner that earned him a place as one of the greatest postwar blues masters of all time.
In total, King recorded and released thirteen studio albums, along with ten compilation albums. Although he only had seven charted hits on official music charts, the man’s music has purely epic. When listening to classic rock groups like Grand Funk Railroad and ZZ Top, the legend of King’s influence can be clearly heard in the material. Even recording artists going strong today with the most versatile music in their repertoire owe their style to one of the legendary kings who revolutionized the music industry.
Top 10 Freddie King Songs
#10 – Ain’t Nobody’s Business What We Do
Although the guitar performance was subdued by Freddie King, his spine-tingling vocal growl rightfully earned the spotlight as a bluesy number loaded with soul. As a song sung as a hint of ancient wisdom, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business What We Do” deservedly earned a spot as a fan favorite. It was one of many King classic uncharted billboard tunes that won over the hearts of fans who dove into his brand of blues music and loved every groovy minute of it.
Originally titled “Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do,” this was a 1920s blues song that became one of the first blues standards after it was published in 1922 by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins. The lyrical content covered the freedom of choice in a vaudeville jazz-style arrangement. The first to record this song was Anna Meyers in 1922 as she was backed by the Original Memphis Five.
The version that was inducted into the Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame belonged to Jimmy Witherspoon as his 1947 jump blues performance was the overall favorite. It was this version that triggered artists from various genres to perform covers of their own, including King. His version was featured on the 1969 album, My Feeling For the Blues.
#9 – The Stumble
“The Stumble” was one of the standout songs from Freddie King’s instrumental discography as a blues guitar number. It was first featured on his 1961 album, Let’s Hide Away and Dance Away with Freddy King. It was the fourth single released from the album and made an everlasting impression with its throaty opening guitar riff. It was this style of guitar play that became a Freddie King trademark that would also serve as a heavy influence throughout the 1960s. The first instrumental album to King’s credit became iconic, as did “The Stumble,” “San-Ho-Zay,” “Sen-Sa-Shun,” and of course, “Hide Away.”
#8 – Boogie Funk
What made Freddie King a standout favorite was his unique guitar style that turned the instrument into a vocalist in its own way. The variance of sounds grooving its way as an R&B number illustrated how talented King was as a musical artist. In what sounded like an entertaining conversation between King and his electric guitar, “Boogie Funk” was just too good to ignore as a classic favorite.
Recorded and released posthumously on the 2010 compilation album, Texas Flyer, it was among the 1974 musical numbers King performed that made him such an iconic favorite among the fan base who fell in love with his unique electric guitar sound. Groups like ZZ Top were inspired by “Boogie Funk” as recording artists, which can be heard in their own musical recordings. It was ZZ Top who inducted Freddie King into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
#7 – Pack it Up
As a funky ready-to-break-up song, “Pack it Up” was a song that featured one of King’s best solos as a genius guitarist. The abrupt and dynamic changes between verse and chorus made this song sound even more dramatic as the contrast between his vocals and smooth guitar played out as a disillusioned lover issuing his final warning to his love interest that he was ready to move on without her. This single wasn’t released until 1994, which was approximately eighteen years after King’s death.
# 6 – Palace of the King
“Palace of the King” featured a simple, yet powerful guitar riff that made this celebratory song feel even more energetic. Freddie King’s equal balance as a powerful vocalist and guitarist was beautifully accompanied by the backing vocalists that helped shape this number as a classic. Although this song did not make an official chart appearance, it served as a partial autobiography of the man, cleverly told in lyrical format, and highlighted with guitaring genius. This song came from King’s 1971 album, Getting Ready…, a recording during a timeline when King was able to further express himself through the genius of his electric guitar and unmistakable vocals.
#5 – Have You Ever Loved a Woman
Written by Billy Myles, then performed by Freddie King, “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” was the first single the blues artist recorded and released while signed with Federal Records. This slow bluesy number featured King’s vocal talent met with Sonny Thompson and his piano play. Although the song failed to make an official chart appearance, it remains one of his signature hits. “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” was recorded on his first studio album, Freddy King Sings, which was released in 1961.
#4 – San-Ho-Zay
From the iconic instrumental album, Let’s Hide Away and Dance Away with Freddy King, “San-Ho-Zay” joined the ranks as one of Freddie King’s greatest instrumental performances as a recording artist. Allowing the electric guitar to serve as the star of the song’s performance, King demonstrated why his style made a heavy impression on so many fans and aspiring music artists. Bluesy and jazzy, hints of “San-Ho-Zay” can be heard in beach-style pop classics that dominated the 1960s music scene during its heydey.
#3 – You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling
Originally recorded in 1938 by Tampa Red, “You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling” was also referred to as “Love with a Feeling.” Freddie King was among the several blues artists to cover what became a popular blues standard song. After its 1960 release, it served as his first official hit on what is now referenced as the US Billboard Hot 100.
It was a minor hit, peaking at number ninety-three, but it also served as a soulful hello to the mainstream audience who had yet to fully embrace the R&B genre. King’s version of “You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling” had him sing without any instrumental accompaniment. He, along with pianist Sonny Thompson, laid out a beautifully performed ballad that spawned many R&B, as well as mainstream artists, to perform versions of their own by using the duo’s musical formula.
#2 – Going Down
The highly energetic “Going Down” fused blues, rockabilly, rock, and soul featured the scream of Freddie King’s guitar as if it was determined to make an everlasting impression. It did. Match it with Sonny Thompson’s piano performance and incredible rhythm section, you’ve got an explosive number that paved the way for some of the most influential rock classics that dominated the 1970s and beyond. Along with the album, Getting Ready…, “Going Down” was a 1971 release, the first of three when King was signed with Shelter Records.
#1 – Hide Away
“Hide Away” was a blues instrumental hit performed by Freddie King that won over a broad audience, peaking as high as number five on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and at number twenty-nine on the US Billboard Hot 100. At the time, “Hide Away” and Freddie King made history as it earned the attention of a mainstream audience that was unfamiliar with blues music at the time.
Not only did “Hide Away’ become a blues standard, but was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock in 1995. “Hide Away” was inspired by a Hound Dog Taylor song, “Taylor’s Boogie.” In the lyrics, King made reference to Mel’s Hideaway, a Chicago blues club on the West Side. “Taylor’s Boogie” was the theme song belonging to Mel’s Hide Away Lounge that had Freddie King join in on jam sessions until he learned the song well enough to come up with “Hide Away.”
Also referenced as “Hideaway,” this song fused a collection of elements that came from other songs before it was arranged according to King’s liking. It was King’s “Hide Away” that influenced Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan to come up with their own versions. For King, “Hide Away” served as his big breakthrough hit as his unique talent with the guitar shifted otherwise ordinary songs into something extraordinary. As often as even the greatest talents like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan have covered this number, King’s original performance remains king.
Top 10 Freddie King Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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