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There's Been More Than One "King of the Blues"

YouTube - Dave Murphy

Once upon a time there were three kings: B. B., Albert and Freddie. Most Blues fans know B. B. and Albert, but Freddie died too young to get the recognition he truly deserved.

The man who performed and recorded under the name Freddie King may have been born Frederick Christian. Like so many of the early to mid-twentieth century Blues masters, his origins are a bit obscure.

He seems to have had a mother named King and a father named Christian and he was known to use both names during his career. He also used two spellings of his first name starting out as Freddy before becoming Freddie in 1968.


At age 6, Freddie’s mother and uncle started to teach him guitar. After they moved from Dallas, Texas, to the South Side of Chicago when he was 15, his music life really began. He started to sneak into South Side clubs to hear people like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, and Sonny Boy Williamson.

Known as “The Texas Cannonball,” King was one of the Blues’ earliest cross-over artists with his best known recording being the 1961 Top 40 hit “hideaway.” Probably his second best known piece was “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” in 1960.


A pioneer in race relations and having one of the first multi-racial Blues bands, Freddie was the youngest of the “Three Kingsof the Blues.” His 20 year career was cut short when he died in 1976 at the age of 42.

King worked a brutal schedule of over 300 shows per year, lived hard with a dangerous love of Bloody Marys as a substitute for solid food. By 1976 it had taken a serious toll, leaving him with stomach ulcers and acute pancreatitis. He quickly deteriorated and the two afflictions killed him in December of that year.

Freddie King’s guitar style had a vocal quality and mixed the open string Texas approach with the raw power of West Wide Chicago style Blues. That combination made him sound more modern than the Chicago musicians of the early 1960s whose style hadn’t really evolved much since the mid-1950s.


His innovations inspired many younger musicians, given his pushing of Blues’ boundaries in the 1960s. Freddie King is well worth a listen and you can hear him this week on the Nine O’clock Blues.

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