Sweet Home Chicago

Photo of FK in the  early 60's

Freddie and his family moved to Chicago in 1949. This was a dream come true. He was now living on the southside of chicago, the playground of the post -war blues greats Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson and others. At age16 Freddie would sneak in to the clubs (on double dares from his friends) to listen and watch these blues greats perform. One night he bet his friends that, not only would he sneak into the club, but he would also sit in with the house band and play his box guitar. Freddie won the bet. After sitting in with the band, the club owner realized how young Freddie was. He ordered the bouncers to escort him out of the club. Howlin Wolf intervened by telling the club owner" the kid is with me. Howlin was impressed by the way Freddie picked the acoustic guitar. Howlin told Freddie" young man you pick that guitar like a old soul"..."The lord sure enough put you here to play the blues" This would be the beginning of a great friendship. Howlin took young Freddie under his wing and taught him how to take care of himself in the streets of Chicago. Along with Muddy Water and his side men EddieTaylor, Jimmy Rogers, Robert Lockwood Jr.and Little Walter they accepted him into their inner circle. These guys were the cream of the crop the best that Chicago blues had to offer. Freddie started hanging out and jamming with Muddy's sidemen. My father credits Eddie Taylor with teaching him how to use the metal index finger pick and a plastic thumbpick verses the flat pick. My father really respected these guys talents as musicians and grew to understand their true worth.

By 1952 Freddie had met and married a Texas girl, Jessie Burnett. She proved to be the foundation and maturity he needed. She also would be the inspiration and co-contributor to some of his compositions. He worked in the steel mill during the day and worked gigs at night. He would ocassionally work as a sideman in recording sessions. He and his running buddies Jimmy Rogers and Eddie Taylor were young, fresh and eager to venture out in search of something new, something different. The southside of Chicago served up its blues with the big blues band sound that included a rhythm section, horns, a piano,and sometimes a harp. The westside of Chicago with its small taverns, eagerly embraced these young blues maverick and their blues sound that consisted of a electrifying lead guitarist who usually doubled as the lead vocalist. a bassman, and drummer. Freddie jumped at the chance that the westside travens offered. So he along with two other young guys, guitarist Jimmy Lee Robinson and drummer Sonny Scott formed his first band,"The Every Hour Blues Boys".

In 1953 Freddie cut several sides for the Parrot Label. He continued to do session recordings whenever possible.

It was not until 1956 that Freddie recorded a 45 with a local label El-Bee. Side A was a duet with Margaret Whitfield "Country Boy" and side B was a fast tempo blues, " Thats What You Think". His friend Robert Lockwood Jr. added guitar licks. Chess Records was one of the biggest blues labels at that time. Their home office and recording studio was located in Chicago. Many big name Chicago blues artists were signed, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and Little Walter, just to name a few. My father auditioned several times with no success. They stated that he sounded vocally like B.B. King. He would later say that Chess rejection was a blessing in disguise, because it forced him to develope his own vocal style.

It is now 1957 and Freddie is performing with bluesmen like blues pianist Memphis Slim ( who left the Chicago scene to find success in France.) and blues guitarist Magic Sam Maghett( a good friend and neighbor). As a favor Freddie did some uncredited session work for Magic Sam who at the time was signed to the Cobra Label. 1958 Uncle Sam came calling on the blues community. My father was not drafted because he had no arch support (flat feet). Magic Sam was not so lucky he was drafted.

1959 Freddie is rejected once more by Chess Records, but he meets Sonny Thompson a pianist who happens to be a contract artist and front man for King/Federal label. Sonny recognized something unique about Freddie's blues style.

In 1960 Freddie signed with Syd Nathan's King /Federal Label. Syd Nathan was a total control freak, a smart hard nose businessman who at times could be fairer than most record label owners of this period. His contract artists range from Blues, Freddie King ,Albert King,Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Memphis Slim, John Lee Hooker and others, Country & Western, Ferlin Huskey, The Stanley Brothers, Hank Penny, Grandpa Jones and others, R&B, Hank Ballad, Bill Doggett, James Brown, Little Willie John, Little Esther Phillips, The Platters, The Ink Spots, Chantals, Royals,and others, Jazz, Nina Simone, Carmen McRae, Errol Garner, Bobby Scott, Bobby Troup and others, Gospel artists and International artists. All artists recorded at one location in Cincinnati Ohio, at the Brewster locations. Records were mastered, pressed,stored, and distributed from this location. The album covers were designed and printed from the same location. Yes Syd Nathan was a control freak. Freddie's time with King label was bitter sweet. He was happy to be under contract, but he did not like being control and manipulated artistically. Nathan would suggest ideas for songs that Freddie disagreed with. Nathan wanted Freddie to cover some of his country and western artist tunes. Freddie had always been a fan of C&W but Nathan and Freddie could never agree on which tune to record. Then one day Nathan over heard a studio jam session that consisted of some country and western musicians and Freddie doing a blues swing version of" Remmington Ride". Nathan quickly had Freddie nail that tune to vinyl. The collaboration of Freddie King and Sonny Thompson on instrumentals such as "The Stumble," "Low Tide," "Wash Out," "Sidetracked," "HeadsUp," "Onion Rings," "The Sad Nite Owl," and "Hide Away", contains some of the most brilliant and most awsome guitar licks in blues history. Instrumentals like these would soon wake up the young British music community to a new groove " Blues Rock".

Many of Freddie's songwriting credits under the King label contract were shared with Sonny Thompson. They would have marathon sessions of 16 hrs and more. The first 45 release: side A " Have You Ever Loved A Woman", side B "Hide Away". Both sides were big hits on the R&B charts. The surprise was the Hide Away release. It became a crossover hit on the Pop chart reaching # 29. This was a first, a blues artist registering a hit on the Pop chart. No other blues artist had accomplished this before. Young whites were digging Freddie's blues style. Nathan quickly capitalized on it. He insisting that Freddie and Sonny concentrate on instrumentals. Freddie sold more albums during this period (1961-63) than any other blues artist including B.B. King.

Releases: 762- Freddy King Sings(1961)

773- lets Hide Away and Dance Away with Freddy king (1961)

777- Freddy King,Lulu Reed & Sonny Thompson, Two Boys and a Girl (1962)

821- Bossa Nova and the Blues (1963)

856- Freddy King goes Surfin' overdubbed crowd noise (reissued of LP 773) (1963)

928- Bonanza of Insrumentals (1965)

931- Freddie King Sings Again (1965)

45 release: Christmas Tears and I Hear Jingle Bells

Nathan showed his appreciation by purchasing a new Station Wagon for Freddie to tour in.

I can still remember as a little girl looking out the window of our third floor flat and seeing this big light blue Buick station wagon with Freddy King and his Band written in big bold lettering on the sides and his current hits" Hide Away" and "Tore Down" written on the tailgate.

My father and his band boys travel up and down the" chittlin circuit". His band now included his brother Benny Turner who played the bass and a young driver/valet, Tyrone Davis (who would later make a name for himself ).

Freddie was now a crossover sensation. He now traveled and performed with the big national show revues that included artists like Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, The Four Seasons, Dion, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Drifters, James Brown, The Shirrells and other top acts. My father and Jimmy Reed were booked together for some University shows. Jimmy Reed during this time was one of the hottist R&B performer around but he was not popular among his fellow artist. Jimmy would fight with the other artists, he sometimes would be a no show or he would perform so drunk at times he would pass out on stage. My father knew of Jimmy's reputation but they got along well together. My father pranks and jokes kept Jimmy laughing. One night backstage in the dressing room while getting ready to go onstage Jimmy went into an epileptic seizure. People in the dressing room panic and did not know how to help him. My father grabbed Jimmy forced a drum stick between his teeth to prevent him from biting off his tongue. During the same tour there was a incident where my mother (who was traveling with my father) was told by university officials that because of school policy she would not be permitted to sit in the audience. This made my father furious. He told Jimmy. Jimmy refused to perform. He went on stage and explained that he would not perform where Negroes could not sit. The students almost rioted. The officials waived the policy and allowed my mother to sit in the audience and the show went on.

Photo of FK in the late 50's

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