One of the Three Kings of electric blues guitar – with BB and Albert – and also a great blues singer, Freddie King based his guitar style on Texas and Chicago influences.

Born in small-town Texas, he moved to Chicago with his family at 15, hearing Chicago blues played in the South Side clubs. One night he bet his friends that not only would he sneak into the club, he would sit in with the house band and play his box guitar. Freddie won the bet.

Realizing how young Freddie was, the club owner ordered the bouncers to escort him out. Howlin’ Wolf intervened, telling him “The kid is with me”. Howlin’ told Freddie “Young man, you pick that guitar like a old soul.” … “The Lord sure enough put you here to play the blues.” Howlin’ took Freddie under his wing, and taught him how to take care of himself on the streets of Chicago.

The instrumental Hideaway, recorded in 1960 with pianist Sonny Thompson, reached number 5 on the R&B Charts and number 29 on the Pop Singles Charts the following year, unprecedented for a blues instrumental. The title comes from Mel’s Hide Away Lounge, a popular West Side blues club. Freddie sold more albums during this period (1961-63) than any other blues artist, including B.B. King.

Freddie King was repeatedly rejected in auditions for South Side’s Chess Records, the premier blues label, because he ‘sang too much like B.B. King’. He would later say that the Chess rejection was a blessing in disguise, because it forced him to develop his own vocal style.

King and Thompson recorded some thirty instrumentals in the early and mid-60s. Vocal tracks were also recorded, but often the instrumentals were marketed on their own merits. King toured with the R&B acts of the day such as Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and James Brown.

Signed by player-producers King Curtis and Leon Russell, and playing alongside Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton, King often created guitar parts with vocal nuances.The years after 1970 were marked by a shift to a harder, rock-like style. He also largely quit performing new material, simply covering songs from other blues musicians.

King was in the habit of consuming Bloody Marys in lieu of solid food so as not to waste time when setting up shows. Near-constant touring took its toll – he was on the road almost 300 days of the year. In 1976 he began suffering stomach ulcers. His health quickly deteriorated and he died of complications, and acute pancreatitis, at the age of 42.

Here’s a 1962 vocal track on the boundary between soul and blues, written by the guitarist and singer from UK blues band Chicken Shack, Stan Webb. Look Ma, I’m Cryin’

And this is an inventive instrumental by King and Thompson from 1961. ­­San-Ho-Zay