Home » Jazz Musicians » Earl King

Earl King

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.

Read more

Tags

Photos

Album Discography

Similar

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and includes upcoming jazz events near you.