King, born on September 3, 1934, in Gilmer, Texas, was an American blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. He is regarded as one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar” and had a significant impact on electric blues music and many later blues guitarists. King’s mother and uncle taught him to play the guitar when he was just six years old, and he later moved to Chicago as a teenager, where he formed his first band, the Every Hour Blues Boys, with Jimmie Lee Robinson and Frank “Sonny” Scott.
Despite repeated rejections by Chess Records, King finally got his break with Federal Records, with the release of his single “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” and instrumental “Hide Away,” which climbed to number five on the Billboard magazine’s rhythm and blues chart in 1961, and later became a blues standard. King based his guitar style on a mix of Texas blues and Chicago blues influences. The album “Freddy King Sings” showcased his singing talents and featured the chart-topping hits “You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling” and “I’m Tore Down.”
King’s guitar playing style was intuitive, often creating guitar parts with vocal nuances. He achieved this by using the open-string sound associated with Texas blues and the raw, screaming tones of West Side, Chicago blues. The combination of the Texas and Chicago sounds gave his music a more contemporary feel than that of many Chicago bands still performing 1950s-style music, and he befriended the younger generation of blues musicians.
Guitars of the King
In his early career, King played a solid-body gold-top Gibson Les Paul with P-90 pickups, and he later played several slimline semi-hollow body Gibson electric guitars, including an ES-335, ES-345, and ES-355. He used a plastic thumb pick and a metal index-finger pick. His unique guitar playing style inspired many musicians, including Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Lonnie Mack. King’s influence on Clapton was particularly significant, with Clapton stating that King’s 1961 song “I Love the Woman” was “the first time I heard that electric lead-guitar style, with the bent notes…[it] started me on my path.”
King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by ZZ Top in 2012 and into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1982. His instrumental “Hide Away” was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “500 Songs that Shaped Rock.” He was ranked 25th in Rolling Stone magazine’s 2003 edition of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and 15th in the 2011 edition.
In summary, Freddie King was a legendary blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter who played a vital role in shaping the electric blues music scene. His guitar playing style was a mix of Texas and Chicago blues influences, which gave his music a more contemporary feel. King inspired many musicians, including Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Lonnie Mack. His legacy continues to influence the world of blues music, and he will always be remembered as one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time.