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Guitarist Freddie King played?and lived?like a fireball. And he burned out at age 42, dying of a heart attack. What King, who would have turned 74 on September 3, left behind was one of the most ferocious legacies in both Texas and Chicago blues?and even rock and roll. If influence, virtuosity, excitement, and durability are the stuff musical genius is made of, here are 10 songs that prove King’s brilliance.
1) “Hideaway”: King recorded this salty instrumental, with its pull-offs and sliding chords, in 1961. When the melody caught Eric Clapton’s ears and he recorded it for 1966’s Blues Breakers with John Mayall’s group, it became that decade’s “Eruption”?a must-learn and a yardstick for every budding guitarist.
2) “The Stumble”: Need proof of King’s influence? Check some of the names who’ve covered this ’61 instrumental. The list includes Luther Allison, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Canned Heat, Dave Edmunds, Peter Green, Steve Hackett, and Ronnie Earl.
3) “San-Ho-Zay”: King was way ahead of his time, spelling things funny decades before Prince.
4) “Going Down”: Besides confirming his excellent sense of direction, King’s hi-balling performance of this threadbare lyric made it a classic, since covered by Beck, Vaughan, and, well, just about every boogie bar band on the planet. It’s proof a great performer can make a little go a long way.
5) “Have You Ever Loved a Woman”: There’s no finer essay in jealous, wanton, hopeless love. So perfect it became a centerpiece for Clapton’s broken hearted howl for George Harrison’s wife Patty Boyd, Derek and the Dominos’ monumental Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The Dominos’ version is also a springboard for one of the greatest studio guitar duels of all time?Clapton and Duane Allman’s bloodletting performance.
6) “Big Legged Woman”: King had a Shakespearean way with romance. “I love the tip,” he sings, “I love the top. I love you better than a hog loves slop. ’Cause you’re a big legged woman, with a short, short mini-skit.” Irresistible.
7) “I’m Tore Down”: King was a master at retaining his poise and cheer in the face of adversity. Check these lyrics?“I’m tore down/Almost level with the ground”?from a typically buoyant performance here:
8) “(What ’Cha Gonna Do When) The Welfare Turns Its Back On You”: Again, King was a musical Nostradamus. This tale of hard times is timeless, a gone-broke lament that could be torn from the pages of today’s newspaper.
9) “You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling”: For all his hard-core storytelling, King still believed in miracles. “She shakes all over/A-when she walks,” this song’s second verse goes, working to the punch line: “She made a blind man see/She made a dumb man talk.”
10) “We’re an American Band”: Okay, this isn’t Freddie’s tune. However, Grand Funk Railroad does immortalize his rambling, gambling party-hardy spirit in this 1973 No. 1 hit. “Up all night with Freddy King/I got to tell you poker’s his thing.” Of course, King had more “things” than poker. But poker was one Grand Funk could sing about and still make the Top 40.