Freddie King - guitar, vocals; The Ash Grove House Band; Bernie Pearl - guitar; Nat Dove - electric piano; Curtis Tillman - bass; Bill Henderson - drums
Texas born Freddie King began playing guitar with his family and friends at the age of six. Relocating to Chicago when he was 16 years old, King began developing an individual style that fused elements of Lightning Hopkins, T-Bone Walker and B.B. King into a sound uniquely his own. King played with a plastic thumb pick and a metal index-finger pick, techniques he claimed to have learned from Eddie Taylor and Jimmie Rogers. After performing in local clubs throughout the 1950s and recording with the likes of Muddy Waters, Sonny Cooper, and T-Bone Walker, King made his professional debut in 1958. Within the next several years, he began touring with his own band throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia, influencing countless guitarists of the rock generation to follow. Classic originals such as "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" and the infectious instrumental, "Hide Away," would have a profound impact on younger blues and rock musicians such as Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter and later, Stevie Ray Vaughan, all of whom sang his praises and recorded his songs.
Between 1958, when it opened and 1973, when it burned to the ground, the Ash Grove in Los Angeles hosted intimate performances by the most influential folk, blues, and jazz artists of its time. With a clientele that included social, political, and cultural leaders of that rapidly changing era, as well as countless musicians, the Ash Grove's contribution to the musical heritage of Los Angeles cannot be overestimated. This Freddie King performance, recorded at the Ash Grove during the summer of 1970, captures the blues guitar giant during a pivotal time in his career, following his legendary early recordings of the late 1950s and 1960s, but just prior to signing with Leon Russell's Shelter Records label, where he would experience a career resurgence until his death in 1976. Backed by the Ash Grove House Band, which featured Los Angeles blues guitarist Bernie Pearl (brother of legendary Ash Grove owner, Ed Pearl) and his fellow alumni from Big Mama Thornton's Band, bassist Curtis Tillman and pianist Nat Dove, as well as their local cohort, Bill Henderson on drums, this performance captures King in fine form playing before an appreciative audience of both fans and fellow musicians. Unlike his two Cotillion albums of 1969 and 1970, which had a distinct soul-influenced strain, this is Freddie King playing pure blues in the stinging, rocky style that captivated so many.
The set begins with the house band vamping around on "San-Ho-Zay," establishing a relaxed groove for six minutes or so, before announcing Freddie King to the stage. Around the seven-minute mark, King begins adding his biting leads to this warm-up jam and the intensity level seriously kicks up a notch. Two of the best tracks from his most recent album, 1970's My Feeling For The Blues follow; first with the delicious slow blues of "Ain't Nobody's Business" and then with the up tempo workout of "Woke Up This Morning." King then acknowledges that quite a few notable musicians are among the audience before he rips into another smoldering slow blues, dating way back to his second King/Federal label release, "I Love The Woman." Next up is a nearly 15-minute excursion that begins with a sizzling take on "That's Alright" and eventually soars into a high energy rendition of King's classic instrumental, "Hide Away." This also features impressive solo spots for Bernie Pearl and Nat Dove, as well as a brief showcase of the rhythm section of Tillman and Henderson, who have been propelling things along with taste and style.
As one may begin to perceive, King has been vacillating between the up-tempo numbers and slow biting blues and the next number, "Have You Ever Loved A Woman," slows things back down while raising the intensity level significantly. Not much else can be said about this career defining song that hasn't been said before, but suffice it to say this is a tour-de-force performance that burns with passion. Another classic closes the set, with a high energy take on the shuffling "All Tore Down" that leaves the Ash Grove audience clamoring for more.
King returns to the stage for an encore and surprisingly takes off into another take on "Hide Away." However, this version is dramatically different from the more straightforward reading featured earlier in the set. This is altogether wilder with King toying around with the signature riffs. By slowing down key sequences in a manner that displays both incredible control and a sense of humor, King proves himself a master of tension and release. Forgoing the solo spots featured on the earlier version, this features some of King's most spontaneous and explosive guitar playing of the evening. The recording concludes with a strident "Yonder's Wall," another song featured on his most recent album, that recalls Taj Mahal (another great who often played the Ash Grove) at his best. At its conclusion, King inquires "Are you with me!" and although the tape stock ran out, one can only surmise that the audience responded with a resounding "Yes!"
Written by Alan Bershaw