Deep Blues: Freddie King's Texas Blues
Some techniques that are characteristic of the Texas Cannonball, Freddie King.
Chops: Advanced Beginner
• Understand the basics of Freddie King’s rhythm and lead style.
• Use hybrid picking to play an open-string boogie pattern.
• Target notes of the minor pentatonic scale when soloing over one chord.
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This month we’re going to take a look at some techniques that are characteristic of the Texas Cannonball, Freddie King. Freddie is one of my all-time favorite guitarists. He was an essential part of my musical development, and I feel you need to spend some time emulating Freddie King if you really want to be an electric blues player. Freddie was the youngest of the three Kings, and he was strongly influenced by both Albert and B.B. However, there was a sense of youthfulness about him. Freddie, like both Albert and B.B., had a way of really getting his money’s worth out of the minor pentatonic scale, but I feel Freddie was a bit more vocal and melodic. In the spirit of Freddie, let’s do some playing.
Fig. 1 is a cool boogie-style rhythm part that is right from Freddie’s bag. He commonly used a thumbpick and a fingerpick on his index finger. Here, I’m using just a regular pick with alternate (down, up, down, up) picking. This is in the style of a song called “Boogie Funk” or “Boogie Man”—the song is essentially the same, but I’ve found it under these two different titles. When you listen closely, you’ll hear that Freddie is also palm muting, and I think that helps with the articulation of this figure.
Fig. 2 is a slight variation on the previous pattern. This has a double-stop that’s just on beat 1. I’m taking the 5 (B) and the b7 (D) and sliding in from a half-step below, and then back to the alternating E octaves.
As shown in Fig. 3, Freddie can get funky when the tune calls for it. He didn’t play a lot of rhythm guitar, but rather these little chord stabs. Another thing I’ve noticed is because he lays out when he sings, he almost never plays the V chord or the IV chord in the fifth measure. He let’s the band take care of it. In measure 6, he hits this cool IV chord lick that’s just the top three notes of the F9 chord. You can also think of it as a Cm triad in second inversion (Eb–G–C). The phrase is repeated in the 10th measure.
We really focus on phrasing in Fig. 4. I played this idea over a D9 chord by using a D minor pentatonic scale (D–F–G–A–C) and targeted only three notes, D, F, and G. We combine those notes with some bends and vibrato to create a phrase very much like how Freddie would start out almost all his solos. I recommend to all my students to take an idea or phrase like this and play it over a 12-bar blues several times for several choruses. This is what will teach good phrasing. I would also recommend singing along with the phrasing to help develop new ideas that will have similarities to our original phrase. This is what builds great blues solos.
I hope you enjoy these Freddie King licks. I hope you find ways to add these new techniques to your playing. Most of all, I hope you take time to listen to some Freddie King and that it inspires you like it always inspires me.
Dennis McCumber has been a guitar instructor and performer for more than 20 years. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in music education from The College of Saint Rose. Dennis performs regularly in the New York City area with various rock, blues, and funk bands, and occasionally as a classical soloist. In addition to performing, Dennis has been a middle school music teacher in the Bronx for the past 12 years. While teaching in the Bronx, he was given a guitar lab by VH1 Save the Music and a keyboard lab from the radio station Hot97 Hip Hop Symphony. Dennis has been an instructor at the National Guitar Workshop since 1996, where he teaches Blues, Funk, and Rock. Find out more at dennismccumber.com.