Freddie King and Killing Floor live at the Black Prince, Bexley, 1969. Recorded by Dennis Roberts.
Killing Floor was fortunate enough to be picked as backing band for the Texas blues guitar legend FREDDIE KING on two British tours in the 1960's. We had met the man briefly when we opened for him at Klooks Kleek on a previous tour when he was backed by the band Steamhammer, and were of course great fans.
Freddie came straight to a short rehearsal with the band from his flight from Dallas, amazingly patient and polite after a rigorous journey. We ran through the beginnings of "Hideaway" "Have you ever loved a woman" etc, and also played the great "Someday after a while".. the only time we ever played it together. Afterwards Freddie took us over the road to a Wimpy bar and bought us each a hamburger. "Ah" said Lou, quoting a BB King song, "he's paying the cost to be the boss!"
Playing with Freddie was a great experience. He was totally professional and self assured on stage, and would simply shout a key.."E!" and count us in "1, 2, 3. 4.." and off we'd go, never quite sure which song we were about to play. Then he'd stop the band with a wave of his guitar while he went into solo guitar walkabouts around the stage, always smiling and holding the audience's attention. A real pro.
A few days into the tour we played at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester. Headliner was Howlin' Wolf! Wolf was a fantastic performer who crawled onto the stage on all fours like a great animal. When he sang he'd shake himself around and roll his eyes. he played some great harp, and his voice, of course, was phenomenal. Sitting in the circle watching him I was a little upset when he thanked all the other artists on the show and announced us as "the house band" to laughter from the audience. I'm sure he simply didn't know our name..ironic as we'd taken it from one of his songs.
After we'd played a date in Stoke Freddie decided he didn't want to drive all the way back to London that night, as we had another Northern date the following evening. We, the band, couldn't afford a hotel ourselves, but I agreed to stay with him to keep him company. Hence I ended up spending a night sharing a hotel room with Freddie King.. an unusual experience. It got a lot stranger the next day when we decided to go to the pictures in Sheffield to while away the afternoon. Talk about the odd couple - Sheffield 1969 was definitely not ready for us! The big black man from Texas and the skinny kid with the long hair and buckskin jacket. We had a choice of films.. there was "633 Squadron" which was my choice. Or there was an awful Shirley McClaine musical. Unfortunately it featured a cameo by Sammy Davis. "Hey man" says Freddie "Sammy's my friend! I wanna see Sammy, man!"
So Sammy it was. Freddie squeezed himself into a seat and proceeded to laugh loudly in all the wrong places as we watched an incredibly tedious film. After a while he got bored and announced loudly "Man I wanna see someone get shot in the asse!" That evening we bumped across the Pennines to the next gig in a mini, driven maniacally by Chris Trimmings from the "British Blues Foundation", with Freddie constantly muttering about "flying a bit low man.."
We also ran into the great Otis Spann during the tour and played some dates together. In Newcastle we all went to a party after the gig and Lou and Spann got into an impromtu piano playing "contest". Not that Lou was trying to outshine a man who he considered one of his heroes, but he made damn'd good account of himself anyway! Spann was just pure class..I remember him running his fingers up the keyboard and lifting his leg up to hit the top note with his foot! Very nicely done. When we got back to the hotel, Freddie decided he was hungry and made himself a sandwich with a fried egg and two pieces of fruitcake. Never seen that before or since.
At the end of the tour I bought Freddie's guitar from him, at the cost of two hundred and fifty U.S. dollars..I still have the receipt he gave me. It was a big semi acoustic Gibson 345 stereo, which he'd used on the album "Bluesmaster". His playing style, using two metal finger pickups in a pincer movement, tended to wear a hole beneath the strings, so he wanted to pick up a new guitar when he got to New York. Sadly I no longer have the instrument. Try as I might, I couldn't get on with it..it just wasn't right for me. My fingers would slip off of the ultra low frets and I just couldn't find the tone I wanted. So eventually I reluctantly swapped it for the guitar I have now, an SG Standard. But I still dream (literally) about Freddie's guitar.
A few months later Freddie returned for another tour. In those turbulent times we had already changed line-up. Lou was off doing something else so we were a four piece band, and Paul Turner had temporarily taken over on bass from Mac.
So Freddie was not too pleased. He particularly missed Lou's piano.. and where was his guitar?! But the tour went well once again.
On the first tour I'd mainly sat out the set while Freddie used my amp, but I was now needed for rhythm guitar duty. We developed a little routine after a while, where Freddie would play a run and I'd copy it. We'd do this a couple of times and then Freddie would pull out all the stops and do one of his killer runs which no-one else could touch. I'd shrug and walk away.. the audience would laugh and Freddie would flash one of his huge grins and give me a big round of applause.
We worked with Howlin' Wolf again on this tour and we got to meet him more. Bill actually had the job of escorting him to gigs, and said that he found him waiting one day in a horrible dark corridor in some seedy West End hotel. His ride hadn't turned up and he'd just been sitting there all day. We had a good talk with him in a dressing room one night when the booze was flowing and Wolf became talkative. After a while he started to talk in a rather personal manner about his wife and Freddie kept trying to shut him up. But we did get some home-spun Wolf philosophy..Me and Bill both remember the quote "you see life is like a great big wheel and you've got to grab at the spokes as it goes round.." fair enough Wolf.
One night after a London gig we all went to a night club.. I think it was the "Bag'o'Nails", and Freddie and Wolf got up and jammed with Bazz and Paul Turner. they did "Smokestack Lightning" and it was magic.
On the last day of the tour we played at the Black Bull in Barnes, West London. But that night there was a bad atmosphere - there was trouble about the money, and Freddie refused to play. There was also trouble with the crowd, and bouncers were literally throwing people down the stairs - Freddie became very agitated and wanted to go to his suitcase "to get my shooter". In the end Killing Floor played but Freddie didn't - It was a sad end to our two tours together.
A third tour was scheduled and we made our way home from a tour of Switzerland to be ready. But Freddie never turned up. A few days later Bill got a telegram from him to say that he hadn't received his advance payment from the agent, and his union wouldn't let him come. Later I went to see Freddie at a large London theatre.. he was now a big name here after jamming with Eric Clapton at Crystal Palace and finally receiving some of the mass acceptance that he was due. A few years after that I read that he'd died.
Postscript: After writing this piece I contacted the official Freddie King website to offer any photographs or information that they might find useful. I received the following reply:
I am Freddie's Daughter and I really appreciate your email the photos and story.
I remember when my father returned from Europe with one of Killing Floor's album.
Now after all these years I now know the story behind the album.
Photos: Freddie in green trousers - London School of Economics.
Freddie in white suit - Oxford Town Hall.
Whenever I think of Freddie, I get a picture in my mind of a big smiling man who gave off a natural warmth and respect to everyone he met. I remember him as a polite, humble man who despite these positive characteristics was also assertive and strong. No one in his or her right mind would argue with Freddie. He was a big man, probably around 6.1. and must have weighed in the Region of 18 stones. (Despite being a Europhile I've yet to come to terms with metrics).
My first memory of Freddie, was rehearsing with him at the Pied Bull, Islington, in preparation for the first tour. I was staggered by the size of his hands and fingers. I could not believe that this man could have such dexterity and fine motor movement to play such astonishing and mind blowing guitar. The strings on his guitar felt like Telephone wires and when he allowed me once the honour to strum his Gibson, I could hardly bend a string.
My other enduring memory of Freddie was his wonderful Suits. He had these amazing Stage suits, which I was required to carry (in my capacity as MC and Minder). My favourite was his Lime Green one, which seemed to be about 3 foot wide at the shoulders. I'm not sure what the material was but I guess it might have been Mohair.
Freddie was born on a farm near Longview Texas and around the age of 16 moved to Chicago where he had Aunts and Uncles living. His grandmother lived on Westside Chicago. He acquired work in a Steel Mill and at night frequented the Blues bars and clubs. I assumed he was influenced by T- Bone Walker but he said he was most impressed by Jimmy Rogers and Eddie Taylor. He also said that Robert Jr Lockwood taught him a lot.
I think Freddie's high spots as a musician were around 1961 when he had a few hits, Hideaway, San-Ho-Zay etc. He said he had 6 top ten R&B hits in the USA and was working a lot in the early 60s. He had some problem with his record company, "King" who were unable to get airplay due to some problem with the companies owners upsetting Radio stations, or something like that. I sensed he was quite bitter about that.
A few other minor memories I have are playing at some Kitsch club in the Midlands and being greeted by a drunk promoter who said to Freddie "We had your brother here the other week, Ben E King". Freddie was not amused. Sadly the promoter was not joking.
At another gig in somewhere like Barnes west London, I remember the promoter (again drunk) making racist remarks and Freddie giving this lowlife a look as if to kill. We had to calm Freddie down, as I do not think he was joking when he shared with us his intentions. Freddie rarely got angry, but when he did it was scary and chilling to say the least.
Freddie use to get very nervous just before going on stage. i.e. when the band went on stage and started playing a 12 bar shuffle this was the cue for me to go and announce him and for Freddie to follow. As soon as the band started the shuffle I would say "are you ready Freddie?" and he would always respond by asking nervously for a cigarette, which he would furiously drag on. I would then announce him from the stage and he would then appear with a big beaming smile, looking confident and totally in control, which he was.
One other fond memory was after a gig at Newcastle City Hall. We returned to our hotel, which was opposite the old Sunderland football ground at Roker Park and had been invited by the landlady to help ourselves to food from the kitchen. There were dozens of eggs, lots of ham and cheese and an enormous slab of Fruitcake. Freddie had an awesome appetite and was helping himself to the Buffet. Our roadie was cooking a large pan of fried eggs and asked Freddie to pass his plate.
"How many eggs Freddie?" asked the roadie.
"Four Man" replied Freddie.
"How do you want them?" enquired the roadie.
"Sunny side up on top of the fruit cake" Freddie replied to our astonishment. We never found out whether this was a Texan gastronomic delight. The way all Texans enjoy their eggs.
A couple of years later when Freddie was touring with Leon Russell's Shelter artistes, he was playing a few nights at the Rainbow theatre Finsbury park where our ex-roadie Big Pete Walters was the sound engineer. Freddie had spoke to Pete and had asked after me and said he wanted me to go to the Rainbow on the last night to play some blues Harp with him. Unfortunately my mental health was poor at the time and the next day Pete said Freddie had wanted me to jam with him at the end of the show with Leon Russell, Eric Clapton and a few other interesting people.
This remains, one of my biggest regrets in life.
Freddie died around Xmas 1976, aged 42. I am sure if he had not died at such a young age, he would have gone on to be an even bigger Star than he was.
He was a great guitarist; a superb singer and I feel greatly privileged to have known this fine man.