Freddie King (1934-1976)
Freddie King is one of the greatest guitar players ever to pick up the instrument. He is often referred to as one of the “3 Kings” of the Blues guitar (the other two “Kings” being Albert and B.B.) Having grown up in Texas and then later moving to Chicago, Freddie created a unique and energetic style of blues guitar playing that blends his traditional southern blues roots and the new electrified blues style that Freddie helped establish in northern cities like Chicago during the 1950’s and 60’s.
What I like best about Freddie King’s music is the simplicity of his melodies. Freddie’s melodies are as clear and lyrical as they are innovative and soulful. He’s a great example of a guitarist who does a great many things with only a handful of notes. I chose Freddie King for this week’s Player Profile not only because I love his music, but because guitarists can learn so much from his fantastic gift for crafting melody. Freddie didn’t just play guitar solos, often his guitar sang the entire song.
Sadly, Freddie King died young at age 42. But his music lives on in his many recordings, including some great recordings of his live performances on television (see below). If you are a guitarist, no matter what style you play, I recommend that you not only listen to Freddie King’s music, but learn to play some of his solos and instrumental tunes. To help you get started I’ve posted my transcription of Freddie’s instrumental Top 40 hit “Hide Away”:
“Hide Away” is a simple melodic theme that is easy to play. Even guitarists who have only been playing a few weeks should be able to handle the first chorus. Over the 6 choruses that follow (each a standard 12-bar blues in E) Freddie masterfully moves his melodic theme all up and down the guitar neck making use of the E blues scale in various positions. Even advanced guitarists can learn a few very valuable lessons about phrasing, rhythm, how to use double-stops and how to blend Major and Minor pentatonic tonalities. It is pretty amazing how this simple tune can serve as a perfect illustration of all those stylistic concepts all at once!
This song sounds good with a bright, clean electric guitar sound. But you can also play it with a slight bit of overdrive so that it has some bite to it. From the video you can see that Freddie didn’t play this song with a traditional flat picking style. He used a plastic thumb pick and a metal finger pick on his index finger. I have always played this song with a regular pick and I find I can get it to sound just fine. If you do use a flat pick, I recommend you try hybrid picking the double-stop run in the 5th chorus with the pick and middle finger.
The most important thing is to get that swingin’ rhythm right. Practice one phrase at a time and listen to Freddie’s recording often as there are layers of nuance that you can add to your playing if you can unlock the feeling in Freddie’s articulation of these simple notes.