Sunday, August 7, 2011

August 7: Freddie King, "Hide Away"

Artist: Freddie King
Song: "Hide Away"
Album: Let's Hide Away And Dance Away With Freddie King
Year: 1961

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In much the same way that it is impossible to cite every single jazz player that shaped the current state of music, a similar caveat must be made when discussing the great bluesmen, as there are just as many that manage to stay under the radar, regardless of their level of influence.  While one can easily rattle off a list of "big name" players within the blues scene, it is often the slightly lesser known performers that had just as much, if not more impact than those who reveled in commercial success.  It is with this thought in mind that one can easily argue the unparalleled importance of Freddie King, as it was his particular take on the blues that influenced an entire generation of guitarists, and without his style, the blues would have never fused with rock and roll in the manner that it did in the years following his breakout performance.  In developing his own sound, King played alongside some of the finest Chicago bluesmen in history, among which were stints with Eddie Taylor, Willie Dixon, and Little Walter.  King also spent time backing everyone from Sam Cooke to James Brown, and with such a resumé, it is odd to think that he still somehow falls into the "second tier" of blues players in the minds of most critics.  However, it was when he began recording his own material that his exceptional talents became impossible to deny, and there are few blues songs in history that stand as important to the development of all forms of music than Freddie King's monumental 1961 single, "Hide Away."

One of the keys to "Hide Away" becoming the iconic track that it remains to this day is the exceptional performance by Freddie King's backing band, as they manage to strike the perfect balance between letting King stay in the lead, but at the same time, delivering amazing musical showings of their own.  Pianist Bill Willis works brilliant behind King's guitar, almost taking on the role of a "second vocal," as he finds fantastic ways to fill many of the open spaces that King leaves, and there has rarely been a blues interplay as perfectly balanced as one hears between this duo.  The song gains much of its depth and individuality from the superb drumming of Philip Paul, as he is able to give slight shifts in tempo, keeping the overall flow of the song engaging and upbeat.  Paul also puts his cymbals to work far more than almost any other recording in history, and this gives "Hide Away" much of its unique sound.  The final player in the backing band is bassist Bill Willis, and it is through his playing that the song gains its fantastic sense of movement, with Willis also providing "Hide Away" with an upbeat groove.  It is the way that the trio are able to glide through the song as a single unit that pushes them beyond "just" a backing band, as they each find ways to display their talents whilst never overpowering the mood or lead performance from Freddie King's guitar.

Though King had made small waves with a few of his previous releases, when he gave "Hide Away" to the world, he forever changed the entire landscape of music.  Working off of the "single string" approach of B.B. King, Freddie King pushed it to new limits, as he in many ways gave it a more modern approach.  There is a fair amount of rockabilly that one can hear within King's performance across the song, and the song helps to cement the connection between rock and roll and blues.  Furthermore, there is an ease with which King delivers the amazing riffs and solos, and this fluid flow is one of the most stunning aspects of the entire song.  Within the confines of "Hide Away," King pays small tributes to many of his own influences, as one can hear traces of many songs like "The Walk," along with a rather obvious play on "The Peter Gunn Theme."  It is during this section that the fantastic interplay between King and Willies is highlighted, and again, one can easily see how these genres fit together so perfectly.  Yet it is the way that Freddie King makes every moment uniquely his own, digging out his own niche within the list of the greatest guitarists in history.  In fact, one can easily make the case that no blues-based guitarist can consider themselves such unless they have a firm grasp on "Hide Away," as it remains one of the greatest instrumentals ever recorded.

Perhaps the largest indicator of the impact of "Hide Away" lives in the fact that the song managed to break into the top thirty on the charts, making it one of the most successful singles by a blues artist in terms of "pop" sales.  The song has also been cemented as a true classic by the almost countless number of covers that have emerged over the years, with artists ranging from Eric Clapton to King Curtis to Stevie Ray Vaughan all taking a turn at recording this number.  However, while the later covers all have their own special appeal, there is an honest, almost organic feel in King's original that has never been matched, and it remains the definitive take on the song.  It is the way that Freddie King slides so smoothly from chords to soloing that sets this recording so far apart from other blues tracks, and it is also the unique groove within "Hide Away" that has made the song truly timeless.  Stylistically, King's performance on "Hide Away" was nothing short of revolutionary, as his approach took the electric blues into an entirely new direction, and to this day, it is his blueprint that remains one of the most largely followed formulas.  Strangely, Freddie King still remains a bit obscure compared to the "big three" of blues musicians, and yet his contributions are easily on par, if not far past nearly all of his peers.  From his unique approach to the absolutely stunning performance he gives, there is not another blues song that can compare to the sheer genius that can be experienced throughout Freddie King's extraordinary 1960 song, "Hide Away."

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