On August 10, The King Brothers Blues Band will open the 2017 Blue Jay Jazz Festival at SkyPark at Santa’s Village. For tickets and information visit BlueJayJazz.com.
There were three blues Kings when Sam and Lee King were coming up: B.B., Albert and Freddie. The brothers would get to know all of them. But they were related to one of them, and he would play a huge part in their careers. In a recent interview, we asked Lee and Sam about their connections with both Albert King and Freddie King. The following, in Lee’s own words, is the story.
Freddie King is our dad’s second cousin. Our dad and Freddie King’s mom are first cousins. Whenever his records were played in our house we would hear that Freddie King was our cousin, and he was in Texas.
I’d always known Freddie was my cousin, and I had always loved the blues: Howlin’ Wolf, Freddie King, Albert King, and John Lee Hooker was somebody that was around the neighborhood a lot when we were kids.
I had moved to Los Angeles, and had been in the cast of Hair. About a year later, I was down there and I heard Freddie King was coming to Hollywood to be at the Ash Grove. And I said, ‘Wow, this is gonna give me a chance to go meet Freddie and tell him he’s my cousin and see where that goes … ’cause I’m a big fan and he’s family.’
So I go to the Ash Grove [on August 25 (Read playlist and a description of the show on Wolfgang’s Vault.)] and Freddie King just blew the walls down. After his first set I go back to the dressing room and he’s there and he’s nice and cordial and I look at him and I say, ‘Hey man, is your mother’s name Sain?’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘Yeah. How do you know that?’ I said, ‘Well, you know, they call my dad Juice.’ And then he said, ‘What?! You Juice’s boy?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and we did all the big-time embracing and looking at each other and doing double takes and giving each other five. He was just as glad to meet me as I was to meet him.
I told him I had a blues band up in the Bay Area. And he said, ‘Well, I’m on my way to the Bay Area. We’re gonna play the Fillmore. I say ‘You need to hear my band,’ and he said he’d love to because ‘They’re trying to throw a band together for me and I don’t even know if these guys can play the blues!’
We were a pretty good local band. KFRC radio had a Bay Area-wide Battle of the Bands to find out who was the best high school band around there and we entered and won like $5000, a recording contract with Warner Bros., and a bunch of equipment from Vox and stuff. So Freddie made arrangements to come up to the Bay Area a few days early to rehearse with the band the Fillmore had thrown together. But first he came to our house and jammed with us. And of course word went ’round the neighborhood: Freddie King is up at Lee and Sam’s. Our mother was in there cooking chicken: it just turned into a whole thing.
Bottom line was Freddie said he didn’t even want to play with those other guys. He called them up and said he had his own band. They squawked for a minute but he said, ‘I’m bringing my own band and that’s it.’
So we played the Fillmore with Freddie [in September]. And we tore the place down. Before that we had done very small venues – a couple hundred people. But that exposed us to a lot of stuff that we wouldn’t have been able to penetrate. After the Fillmore we went on tour with Freddie, and it was a Leon Russell and we played large venues of 3,000, 5,000 seats. Places like San Bernardino Sports Arena.
We did meet Albert King, and did a couple weeks with Albert. He offered us a little more money to come with him, but we were loyal to Freddie. We did become good friends and as a result Sam worked with Albert and Sam worked with Freddie.
Photos: Top, Freddie King circa 1970, the year he played the Ash Grove and the Fillmore West; Middle, Lee and Sam flank Screamin’ Jay Hawkins ("A buddy of ours, he would hang out with us every night when The King Brothers were playing Paris, France."); and bottom, Lee, left, with B.B. King and Albert King.