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Celebrating Freddie King

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Today we celebrate what would have been the 76th birthday of “The Texas Cannonball,” Freddie King.  Freddie is one of The 3 Kings of The Blues, along with Albert and B.B. King.  Of the 3 Kings, only the wonderful B.B. is still with us, Albert having passed in the early ’90s and Freddie having left us far too soon in 1976.

It’s impossible to quantify the influence these three great men have had on the blues and rock and roll but I’ll try.  Eric Clapton is a well-known blues obsessive and once said when he’s constructing a solo he often starts by thinking about Freddie King.  Clapton’s Derek & The Dominoes album is most famous for “Layla” but a big part of the greatness of that record comes from the two Freddie King songs they perform: “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” and “Keys To The Highway.”  I should note here that neither of those were written by Freddie but his versions were obvious inspirations and remain the definitive interpretations.  Stevie Ray Vaughan was also heavily influenced by both Albert and Freddie King.  It’s probably easier to list the blues and rock guitarists who can’t be connected to Freddie than to list all who are.

That influence is interesting and useful for introducing King’s music to the unfamiliar but his legacy is the music itself, something I’ve come to appreciate more deeply this year by purchasing the 7 CD, 167 song, 9 hour Taking Care Of Business box set that chronicles The Cannonball’s output from 1956-1973.  It’s expensive but worth every penny.  In addition to all that music, music I’ll spend a lifetime learning and enjoying, you also get a hardcover book of photos, session details, and the brilliant insight of one of the blues’ finest scholars, Bill Dahl.  I’ve barely begun to absorb how amazing and consistent King was throughout his career.

I like just about everything on Taking Care Of Business but I’m going to narrow those 167 songs down to just a few of my favorites:

  • “Have You Ever Loved A Woman:”  I knew the Derek & The Dominoes version first and I still like it but not nearly as much after hearing this urgent, passionate, compact performance by Freddie.  Clapton & Co. had the luxury of stretching out for seven minutes and do it nicely but King expresses more with less and does it in half the time.
  • “I Love The Woman:”  I can’t remember if I heard Freddie’s version before hearing Nick Moss & The Flip Tops do this on Live at Chan’s.  I love Nick’s version and you can hear his affection for Freddie in that performance and hear King’s influence throughout much of Moss’ career.  Like I said, King touched everybody and still does and this is just a great example of why.  He knows how to heighten the tension at just the right time and has you eating right from his hand.
  • “Butterscotch (Onion Rings):”  Freddie was a great singer but a large part of his discography is comprised of great, snappy instrumentals.  These aren’t the bloated byproduct of a guitarist flamboyantly stroking his ego.  Many of these are great little boogies anchored by crack rhythm play and a series of quick, tasty licks.  This is one from his early years and it’s one my favorites.
  • “Bossa Nova Blues:”  Freddie may not have been the first to use a Bossa Nova rhythm for a blues song but it’s not something you hear every day.  I don’t know how or why it works but it’s a great left turn from an artist who wasn’t satisfied to achor himself to a single style.
  • “Walking By Myself:”  This is one of my favorite Jimmy Rogers songs and I love Jimmy.  I’ll always like Jimmy’s original best but Freddie is fantastic.  Freddie unplugs and plays this one with a completely different feel than a lot of what’s heard on Freddie’s box and from the original.  Even his vocal is more relaxed and brought down into a lower register.
  • “Five Long Years:”  There are probably 250,000 versions of this song.  I’m not sure if that means it’s a standard or if too many unimaginative bluesmen and rockers have tried their hand at it.  There are a few great versions among the glut and Freddie’s is one of them.
  • “Boogie Man:”  I’ve always liked the groove on this song.  This is more a house favorite and I know it’s not the best song on the set but I still like it.

Those are just a few of my favorites from this great box set.  I could rattle off 10 more titles not included here without breaking a sweat and I’m sure many of you will be shocked at some of what I chose and horrified by what I left off.  Let’s celebrate Freddie’s birthday and legacy by going back and listening to some of those classic sides he cut and remembering how much we love them all. 

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