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40 years gone: Blues legend Freddie King was a giant at Armadillo WHQ

This mural of Freddie King was painted by Jim Franklin and once hung in the Armadillo World Headquarters.

This mural of Freddie King was painted by Jim Franklin and once hung in the Armadillo World Headquarters.

If you’re young enough to imagine the Armadillo World Headquarters — rather than remember it — there are probably just a few names you have associated with it. Willie Nelson, for sure. Maybe Commander Cody. Perhaps whoever is on the poster you bought at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar last year.

But one fellow who is terribly under-recognized today is late blues guitar legend Freddie King. In the 1970s he was known to call the Armadillo World Headquarters “the House That Freddie Built” — and he wasn’t the only one.

King, who died 40 years ago today in Dallas, was a frequent performer at Austin’s 1970s landmark, showing off skills learned from legends such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf in nightclubs on the South Side of Chicago and passing the magic along to Texas disciples such as Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan.

In a 1996 story on the 20th anniversary of King’s death, Statesman music Michael Corcoran described King’s pioneering and powerful blues style:

Although T-Bone Walker practically invented this rawhide style of electric blues, it was King who revved it up for the rock crowd by hoeing the turf between Walker and B.B. King. Moving from Texas to Chicago with his family at age 16 (then back to Texas in his 30s), Freddie King merged the most vibrant characteristics of both regional styles and became the biggest guitar hero of the mid-’60s British blues revivalists, who included Eric Clapton, Savoy Brown, Chicken Shack and Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac.

A true Texas music legend, King was honored by Gov. Ann Richards, who declared Sept. 3, 1993 as “Freddie King Day.” A decade later, Rolling Stone ranked King 15th in its list of the 100 greatest guitarists. Nearly another decade later, King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Read Michael Corcoran’s full-length article about King here.


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