Freddie King with Killing Floor

Freddie King with Killing Floor 1969

Mick writes...

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 1960s. I keep this page on the website as a personal memento of working with this great bluesman, and for the interest of Freddie fans everywhere.

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. He arrived with a couple of dodgy looking women in tow and a half bottle of scotch in his pocket - a short life but a merry one. In Newcastle we all went to a party after the gig and Lou and Spann got into an impromptu 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 - I remember that Spann approved. Spann himself 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 we had played at a London night club.. I think it was the "Bag'o'Nails", and after the show Wolf turned up. The gear was still on stage 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.

I might mention that Freddie was one of the most polite and professional people that I've ever worked with. In the fifty dates that we played together I never saw him him drunk or indulging in anything less than totally proper behaviour. Definitely no drugs - the worst indulgence I ever saw was a quick nervous drag on a cigarette just before he walked on stage. As I've said - a true pro.

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:

Hello Mick,
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.
Thanks again
Wanda King

Above: Freddie and Killing Floor play "I Loved The Woman" - Youtube link https://youtu.be/S9yXfKuWSdU
Photos: Freddie in green trousers - London School of Economics.
With Bazz Smith, Paul Turner, Mick Clarke, Lou Martin
Freddie in white suit - Oxford Town Hall.

The Official Freddie King website

Survivor - New book by Freddie's brother and bass player Benny Turner Click here for details

Related article: Mick's memories of Clapton and Mayall 1966

More info at www.killingfloor.org

Mick Clarke