Born: February 7, 1934 Primary Instrument: Guitar, electric
Earl King - Blues Guitarist, vocalist (1934 - 2003)
Earl King, a native of New Orleans, was a flamboyant performer, singing with bluesy ease and playing guitar solos that curled and sliced across the rolling New Orleans beat. He recorded hundreds of songs that were rooted in both the 12-bar blues and New Orleans lore, with lyrics that could tell wry, compressed stories or come up with wild-eyed imagery. While Earl King performed widely, his songs also traveled by way of other musicians: Jimi Hendrix, who recorded King's ''Come On'' as ''Let the Good Times Roll,'' the Meters, who recorded ''Trick Bag,'' and Professor Longhair, who played piano and had the performer credit on the original 1964 version of King's ''Big Chief,'' although it featured King's vocals and whistling. The Professor Longhair recording and remakes of ''Big Chief'' by performers including Allen Toussaint and Dr. John are still heard every year at Mardi Gras time.
Earl King was born Earl Silas Johnson IV in New Orleans in 1934. He started performing as a gospel singer but then turned to the blues, at first singing with the band led by Huey (Piano) Smith. He made his first single as Earl Johnson in the early 1950's, playing guitar in a style strongly influenced by Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones). When he signed with Specialty Records, the label's owner, Art Rupe, persuaded him to bill himself as King Earl, but the typesetter reversed the names. As Earl King he had a regional hit, ''A Mother's Love,'' and then, after he moved to Ace Records, a national one with ''Those Lonely, Lonely Nights,'' which sold a reported 250,000 copies.
In 1960, King recorded for the Imperial label. It was with Imperial he recorded his signature songs Come On and Trick Bag. His recording of ''Trick Bag'' was a Top 20 rhythm-and-blues hit in 1962.
Back in New Orleans, he revived the career of Professor Longhair, a revered New Orleans pianist, with ''Big Chief'' in 1964, and his songs were also recorded by other New Orleans musicians, including Lee Dorsey, Fats Domino and the Dixie Cups. Hendrix recorded ''Let the Good Times Roll'' for the 1968 album ''Electric Ladyland,'' which provided significant royalties through the years for Mr. King; Stevie Ray Vaughan also recorded the song.
He recorded briefly in the ‘70’s, with “Street Parade,” (’72) re-released by Tomato Music as “New Orleans Blues,”(2005) and That Good Old New Orleans Rock 'n Roll which was released by Sonet in 1977. He also is on New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 1976 album.
During the 1980's and 90's, King made albums for Black Top Records, including a 1986 collaboration with the band Roomful of Blues, ''Glazed,'' which was named because he made a Tastee Donuts shop his regular office and hangout. ''Glazed'' was nominated for a Grammy Award.
King followed it with ''Sexual Telepathy,('90) ''Hard River to Cross,''('93) and ''New Orleans Street Talkin' '' in 1997. Although declining health limited his performing in recent years, collections of his songs were released on Westside, Fuel 2000 and Charly Records.
Earl King died from diabetes on April 17, 2003, at New Orleans St. Charles General Hospital.
As is tradition with the Crescent City’s most beloved artists, he was carried home to rest with a traditional Jazz funeral procession complete with street parade,and a second line, a fitting tribute to a man who defined the city’s musical heritage.