A King Family Primer

The King Brothers Blues Band will open the 2017 Blue Jay Jazz Festival on August 10. When Sam and Lee King were coming up, there were three Kings of blues royalty: B.B., Albert and Freddie. They were known to them all, but related to one. And that one would play a huge part in their careers.

In a recent interview with the brothers, Lee was asked to tell the story of their relation to Freddie King.

Freddie King is my 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, 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 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 Faye?’ 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 and he was just as glad to meet me as I was to meet him.

I told him, well man, listen: I got 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. And like I said, oh man that’s the gig to play. I say you need to hear my band. He say I’d love to because they’re trying to throw me a band together with some of these guys and I don’t even know if they can play the blues. So we got our schedules together and I flew up about a week early.

We were a pretty good local band. We’d won all the local talent shows, all of the citywide KFRC big radio station they had a San Francisco Bay Area-wide Battle of the Bands and this was all the best rock bands or whatever it was being called ’cause this was the ’60s now, and kind of anything went, but the cream always stood out. So they wanted to find out who was the best high school band around there. So we went there and won. We 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 they had thrown together for him, 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, and our mother was in there cooking chicken and it just turned into a whole thing.

Bottom line was Freddie said “Man I don’t even want to play with these guys they put together for me.” So, he called them up and said he had his own band and they tried to squawk for a minute but he said, No I’m bringing my own band and that’s it.

So we went and we played the Fillmore with Freddie and we tore the place down. That exposed us to a lot of stuff that we wouldn’t have been able to penetrate. Before that we had done very small venues – a couple hundred people. After we did the Fillmore we were doing large venues, you know – 5,000, 3,000 people 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.

View the set list, house band members and hear a recording of the August 25, 1970 Ash Grove show by clicking here.

Photo: The King Brothers perform at the 2017 Blue Jay Jazz Festival, at SkyPark Santa’s Village.