Monthly Archives: July 2014

From Freddy King to “Purple Haze”

With so many years past since Jimi Hendrix turned the music world inside out, it is sometimes easy to forget the complete transformation of the electric guitar, which he single-handedly brought about during his short lifetime. One way to gauge Hendrix’s transformative significance is to view his music in the context of other players of his day, in particular 1960s blues players – the creative and artistic pool from which Hendrix came.

The clip below is a very early recording from a British TV show taken a few months before his seminal performance at Monterey Pop. Chronologically hardly a year separates Freddy King’s clip of “She Put a Whammy on Me” in my previous post from this rendition of “Hey Joe/Purple Haze”. Musically, however, Hendrix is already in another universe.

Even though the audio is slightly out of sync with the video in this example, it nevertheless provides a telling glimpse of the immense displacement that will soon be thrust upon the music scene in general and guitar players’ vocabulary in particular. This changes everything.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Swinging Guitar of Freddy King!

In my next life I want to come back as Freddy King. Rocking out on “The Beat” TV show in 1966, backed up with a smoking hot horn section and go-go dancers to keep the energy going – not that King didn’t have enough of that. He was the complete package: the suit, the pompadour hairdo, a Gibson ES-345 slung over the right shoulder rather than around his neck and a stock of blues riffs without end. This is far cooler than allowed by law.

Once one gets past the amazement of the opening scene with the Joker-style set and painted piano, you are hit right away with King’s unique right-hand technique. With picks on his thumb and index finger (more typical for banjo or steel-guitar players) King lights up his Gibson guitar. He pulls and slaps and picks and pokes the strings jolting the amp with each note. And his singing voice … straight from the Pantheon of blues deities.

This is a video that keeps getting better with each passing minute. The energy level builds through the verses and choruses of the first number “She Put a Whammy on Me” and climaxes with an explosive instrumental jam at the end. If I had a time machine, I know where I’d be right now.