Though Freddie King was known as one of the “Three Kings of Blues Guitar,” his masterful blues work, soul-gripping voice, and passionately delivered performances prove he should be called “The King of the Three Kings” (no offense to B.B. King, or Albert King, of course). Amassing a huge catalog of some of the blues’ most defining and enduring works during his decade of recording, perhaps the only reason he’s not considered to be a bonafide king of the blues is simply because he was on this earth a lot shorter of a time than a giant like B.B. King. Hailing from Texas, he blended toe-tapping boogie-woogie beats with twangy riffs.
He honed his skills on the West Side of Chicago in the ’60s, when fellow blues greats Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were already recording at the famed Chess Records outfit. The label passing on King could have slowed him down, but he beat a path to rival Federal Records and wasted no time laying down some of the blues’ smoothest, most satisfying contributions. For more on this sometimes-unsung blues hero, check out the best Freddie King songs below.
12. Me And My Guitar
Boasting a funky blues groove, this fun number is the perfect Freddie King hype song. It features all his staple musical elements, from his husky, howling vocals and smooth electric guitar to his solid backing band keeping time with a strut-worthy rhythmic riff. A classic blues release, ‘Me and My Guitar’ focuses on King singing about his woman who’s left him (a blues tale as old as the genre itself), but instead of the languid, forlorn motif delta blues artists depict when singing about failed relationships, this blues guitarist takes a joyous, empowering approach. It might sound fickle to the average person, but King’s excited. After all, he’s got more time to rip it up on his 6-string. Have fun rocking out to this big band, electrified blues celebration.
11. Have You Ever Loved a Woman
If ever there was a flawless blues effort, it’s King’s version of the Billie Myles tune, ‘Have You Ever Loved a Woman.’ Both Freddie’s Texas roots and Chicago influences are present in his soulful delivery. His falsetto vocal work is spiritually invigorating, as only a man residing from the wide open spaces of the Lonestar state could induce. Topped off with a slow-burn back beat and fluttering piano, that’s where his “West Side” influence becomes apparent, the bustling instrumentation mimicking the burgeoning electric blues movement along the city streets of Chicago. King was at times compared to another “king,” B.B. to be exact. They shared no relation, but that didn’t stop critics from trying to match up the two in their reviews. While B.B. was a blues pioneer in his own right, most agree Freddie’s one-of-a-kind command of his voice and his wildly energetic live performances put him in a class all his own. Because of this distinction, Freddie, B.B., and another bluesman, Albert King, were referred to as the “Three Kings of Blues Guitar.”
10. You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling
If you had to pinpoint the transformation for Freddie that took him from West Side gigging professional to national blues sensation, it would have to be the release of his breakout single, ‘You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling.’ For years, Freddie kept knocking on Chess Records’ doors. He wanted to be on the same label as blues greats like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and he definitely deserved it. But for some reason, Chess kept turning him down. When he finally caught a break with Federal Records in 1960, they released this feel-good, honey-smooth groove and it charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 for singles. After the success of his debut release with Federal, he’d spend the next 6 years recording with them, releasing a multitude of popular blues standards, originals, and instrumentals.
9. Boogie Funk
When Freddie King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, ZZ Top introduced him (King passed away far too young at 42 years old in ’76, so his induction was posthumously done), and this was for good reason. Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill were influenced by King’s guitar work and keen ability with blues interpretation. The zany trio also had a knack for that twangy Texas sound, just like King expresses with his instrumental rocker, ‘Boogie Funk.’ As you listen to him weave his way through electric guitar work and a rolling rhythm that understandably brings sweat to his brow, it’s impossible not to hear ZZ Top’s rollicking ‘La Grange’ rhythm buried in the churning Freddie track. With this locomotive-like groove, King proves he’s more than 12-bar blues buff, he’s got plenty of blistering licks and fast-draw rhythms to spare as well.
Recommended: Hear La Grange on our pick of the best ZZ Top songs.
8. Palace Of The King
“I’m goin’ back to Dallas, back to the palace of the king.” As King added to his discography of recorded music, he partnered with a team who worked in a healthy dose of R&B flare to his blues music. This ’71 release debuted over ten years after Freddie began his recording career, and it shows his vast range and hard work towards becoming a well-rounded artist who wasn’t afraid to try new sounds and push his own abilities. Funk was huge in the ’70s, and this early release of the decade ushered in the groovy trend. Written by songwriting trio Russell, Dunn, and Nix, ‘Palace of the King’ could have been penned about Freddie’s life. The tune tells the story of a bluesman hailing from Dallas who plays all around the world but always returns to his beloved Texas state. Blues artists after King recorded their own versions of the popular piece, including Eric Clapton and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
7. Same Old Blues
King recorded a couple of Don Nix tunes over the course of his career, including this sterling Chicago blues masterpiece, ‘Same Old Blues.’ Nix was a lyrical heavyweight out of Memphis who logged more than 150 song titles of his own with publishing organization BMI. While King was more than happy to explore the more jovial sides of funk and faster rhythms of boogie beats, nothing compares to King when he’s in his element of good, old-fashioned, heartbreak blues. Another ’70s release, the song transports you back to the ’50s and ’60s with the likes of Etta James. Delicate piano plays the part of rainfall in this song and a female vocal choir gently backs King as his own voice gloriously weeps and his axe wails. The blues truly doesn’t get any better than this.
6. The Stumble
With tons of attitude, ‘The Stumble’ was part of several instrumentals King composed throughout the ’60s during his most active recording time. A strong horn section drives the shuffle rhythm as Freddie’s guitar sings through the speakers. King leaves plenty of room to breathe as the piece marches forward, with George Coleman taking a soaring sax solo almost two minutes in. An original work by King himself, it would go on to be considered a classic in the blues world, especially among contemporary Chicago blues-influenced musicians like Clapton. Not only would he go on to cover ‘The Stumble,’ but several other artists would as well including progressive rock trailblazer Jeff Beck.
Another instrumental piece composed by King, ‘San-Ho-Zay’ would also solidify itself as a classic blues piece among enthusiasts and artists in the decades to come after its ’60s release. Though he churned out this one alongside other instrumentals like ‘The Stumble,’ Freddie proved he’s just as skilled with original compositions as he is with interpretations due to each piece’s uniqueness. While ‘The Stumble’ feels full of swagger and rebellion, ‘San-Ho-Zay’ feels more open, like you’re heading down a California highway in a convertible with the top down and the open road in front of you.
4. Ain’t No Sunshine
Released on King’s 1972 album Texas Cannonball, the album title also fits as the perfect nickname for our Dallas-born bluesman. A Bill Withers cover (and quite possibly his most popular hit), King opens up his rendition of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ with moody, yearning guitar phrasings that are intentionally sparse. The purposive spaces between convey just as much as his notes do. Freddie’s breathy vocals come in almost 1 minute into the recording, giving rise to a whole new perspective for the cover, which has essentially been turned into a brilliant instrumental for much of its running time. The song wasn’t ever supposed to be a single for Withers. It was released as the B-side to his tune ‘Harlem,’ but DJs ended up playing ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ instead. The same year Freddie released his cover in 1972, the Withers-penned track won a Grammy for “Best R&B Song.”
3. I’m Tore Down
A high-powered blues driver, ‘I’m Tore Down’ was the first song King recorded for Federal Records back in ’61. After its release, it shot all the way up to number 5 on the R&B charts, signaling listeners loved Freddie’s fusion between old-time, 12-bar blues and a more contemporary, aggressive style of playing. Of all the Freddie King music released throughout the ’60s, this is one of the tracks that has stood the test of time, still considered to be one of his best releases. Clapton loved the track as well, and chose it as one out of several King tunes he covered throughout his own career. He even emulated King’s demanding vocal work by shuffling between falsetto notes and full voice phrasings.
2. Hide Away
King puts on a guitar fingerpicking masterclass with his hit instrumental ‘Hide Away.’ His playing style was unconventional, focusing on fingerpicking as his foundation but using individual picks on his thumb and index finger to get those extra bites and growls on certain notes. One of his most popular tracks, he wrote it alongside long-time keyboardist and songwriting partner Sonny Thompson. Sometimes referred to as “Hideaway” instead of “Hide Away,’ they named it after one of their favorite clubs they played at many times in Chicago. The rocking tune was one of several Freddie and his band recorded in Cincinnati, Ohio for King Records (no relation to King himself) before being signed to their partner label, Federal Records. The single is considered to be one of the blues’ classic pieces, and in ’99 it was admitted to the Grammy Hall of Fame.
1. Going Down
Released in 1971 on his critically acclaimed Getting Ready album, the project represented a new phase for Freddie, one that found him working with his production team to reach a wider, more rock-oriented audience. That’s apparent with ‘Going Down,’ which features driving, rhythm electric guitar and percussive instrumentation that somehow relegates Freddie’s half-screamed vocals to the backburner at times. While blues enthusiasts probably don’t pick the single as their favorite, the blossoming rock world in the ’70s that’s maintained steady footing over the years views this tune and the album it’s on as blues-rock gold. Not only did ‘Going Down’ establish King as a multi-genre powerhouse, but it ushered in the blues to a new generation and fused it with rock, forever tying the two sister genres together.