Guitarist singer, songwriter dies from complications of diabetes at 69:
- Mr. King, who lived in New Orleans, was a flamboyant performer, singing with bluesy ease and playing guitar solos that curled and sliced across the rolling New Orleans beat. He recorded hundreds of songs that were rooted in both the 12-bar blues and New Orleans lore, with lyrics that could tell wry, compressed stories or come up with wild-eyed imagery. “Whatever gymnastics jump through my head, I write about it,” he once said.
While Mr. King performed widely, his songs also traveled by way of other musicians: Jimi Hendrix, who recorded Mr. King’s “Come On” as “Let the Good Times Roll” on “Electric Ladyland”; the Meters and Robert Palmer, who recorded Mr. King’s “Trick Bag”; and Professor Longhair, who played piano and had the performer credit on the original 1964 version of Mr. King’s “Big Chief,” although it featured Mr. King’s vocals and whistling. The Professor Longhair recording and remakes of “Big Chief” by performers including Allen Toussaint and Dr. John are still heard every year at Mardi Gras time.
Mr. King was born Earl Silas Johnson IV in New Orleans in 1934. He started performing as a gospel singer but then turned to the blues, at first singing with the band led by Huey (Piano) Smith. He made his first single as Earl Johnson in the early 1950’s, playing guitar in a style strongly influenced by Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones). When he signed with Specialty Records, the label’s owner, Art Rupe, persuaded him to bill himself as King Earl, but the typesetter reversed the names. As Earl King he had a regional hit, “A Mother’s Love,” and then, after he moved to Ace Records, a national one with “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights,” which sold a reported 250,000 copies. His own recording of “Trick Bag” was a Top 20 rhythm-and-blues hit in 1962. [NY Times]