Blue Dog News

Eddie King

This text are the excellent liner notes by Robert Pruter on Eddie King´s "The Blues has got me" (Double Trouble DT-3017). Buy the album. Get the whole story. Don´t rely on copycats like me!

The appearance of this first album by the brother and sister headed band of Eddie King / May Bee May is compelling evidence of the musical riches that can still be found in dozens of small bars in the heart of working class black areas on Chicago´s South and west sides. There, innumerable acts toil year after year in obscurity and rarely if ever get recorded, but many possess the talent that merit having their music being saved for posterity. King and Mae have that talent. Eddie King with his engaging vocals and B.B. King-style guitar and sister Mae with her powerful gospelized-blues vocals are veteran West Siders who perform a kind of music that blends striking blues licks, soul emoting, and gospel testifying and make all these varying approaches seem like one marvelous blues tradition. That they will jump from the urban blues of Albert King, to the hard southern soul of Ann Peebles, to the nitty gritty blues of their original "He´ll drain you up" reflects the interests of their audiences who in their listening do not make (and never have made) genre-separating distinctions. On this album, produced by Chicago blues authority Steve wisner, Eddie King and May Bee May take the listener to a dimly-lit smoke-filled tavern on the West Side with a vigorous exuberant style of blues and blues-based music that captures the very essence of Chicago bar-band blues today

Eddie King was born Edward Lewis Davis Milton, on April 21, 1938, in Talledga, Alabama. Mae Bee May, younger than Eddie, was born Mary Lou Milton near Linevile, Alabama where she and Eddie were raised in an environment steeped in musical experiences. Their father, Oscar Louis Milton, a minister, played guitar and harmonica, and their mother, Lilly Mae Milton, an evangelist, played guitar and organ. The father was known to play blues now and then. No doubt inspired by the example of his parents, Eddie, while still in his adolescence learned guitar from an older brother, Cecil Calvin, and a sister, Geneva (there were eight sisters and five brothers in the family).

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The family was shattered in 1950 when the mother died. An aunt in Louisville, Kentucky, took in some of the children, including Eddie and Mary Lou. Then around 1954 an uncle took Eddie and Mary Lou and some of the other children to Chicago, but Eddie and the kids soon found themselves in foster homes. Eventually Eddie stayed with Mary Lou and her husband Percell Smith
No move could have been more conducive to young Eddie´s musical development than his settling on the west side, where he was exposed to a vibrant and flourishing blues scene. King recalls peeking into clubs and seeing such legends as Muddy Waters, Freddie King, and Junior Wells, the latter whom King credits as a big influence on his career. While in his teens he hooked up with Willie Black, a harpist/guitarist. The two joined Golden "Big" Wheeler, who brought his younger brother, guitarist James "Little" Wheeler, in the group. Big Wheeler took the group around to house parties and helped them grow as musicians.

King landed his first professional job as a result of the intercession of his oldest sister, Geneva Milton. Says King, "she told Little Mac Simmons that I played guitar. And I wasn´t even old enough to get in the places, and Little Mac gave me a chance. I went and played for him, and I worked for him a long time. He was hard on me, but it paid off. He said, ´look if you don´t play that right, I don´t want you.` I played it, and he pushed and he pushed and it helped me."

The time playing with Little Mac brought King a wealth of experiences. While the band was at Pepper´s (503E. 43rd) on the South Side, King would sit in with Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, and the other greats. Relates King, "I´ve worked in clubs and didn´t even get paid. I didn´t really care. I just wanted to perform and I wanted people to like me." He recalled that bluesman Bobby King entered Pepper´s one night, saw him play, and exclaimed, "man, you´re really good!"

Simmons, who has a long history as a blues vocalist and harmonica player, was then an up-and-coming artist recording his first sides. He built a good band around him, which besides King on guitar, included Detroit Junior on piano, Bob Anderson on bass, and Robert Whitehead on drums. "We were the busiest band around," relates King, "everywhere you look you would see Little Mac Simmons and Detroit Junior. They were a team, just like Muddy Waters and Little Walter were. Everybody in the group had records out, Detroit had one, Little Mac had one..." Indeed they did, during 1959-60, and on these Little Mac and Detroit Junior sides is exhibited some of the best guitar support of King´s carrier. Especially notable are two little Mac sides on Bea " Baby, "Don´t come back", on which King´s superb "fills" really dominate the track, and "Times getting tougher", on which King dominates again with B.B. King-style picking. Equally outstanding are two Detroit Junior sides, "Money Tree" and "So Unhappy", on which King contributes excellent guitar breaks.

King at this time struck up a friendship with Willie Dixon and did a little recording with him, starting with playing second guitar on several Sonny Boy Williamson sides in 1960. Other sessions that King was involved in included Kenya Collins sides for Duke (never released) and Syl Foreman sides on the Adell label.
King received his first opportunity to record as a leader, when in 1960 he did several numbers for Joe Brown´s J.O.B. label. Three sides were released, "Shakin´ inside", which was paired with "Love you baby" and later with "Lonely man". The J.O.B. sides are best understood as a precious first opportunity for a young musician to record which was not properly realized. Eddie King needed blues materiel to work with and J.O.B. did not help him in that regard.
The J.O.B. records were issued under the name Eddie King. He had adopted the name during the 1950´s after a popular Chicago orchestra leader of the same name, whom the guitarist says "adopted me as his son and influenced me".

In 1961 personal tragedy hit Eddie and Bessie Milton, when their five children died in a fire on the south side. King quit Little Mac around this time and began working with harp player Willie C. Cobbs in a band with Willie Black on bass and Left Hand Frank on 2nd guitar. One spot they worked until the middle of 1963 was the Blue Flame (809 E. Oakland) on the South side. King often went by the name of Little Eddie King. Earlier, in 1961, King and Cobbs went on a southern tour, but got stranded in Arkansas. King "wound up pickin´ cotton" for a while until he could get enough money to return to Chicago."

King rejoined Little Mac briefly and then formed his own band, Eddie King and the Kingsmen, playing at such places as the Blue Flame and Ralph´s Show lounge. Using only three pieces - Willie Black on bass, Robert Whitehead on drums, and King on guitar - the band played a mixture of pop rock´n´roll and blues (Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Temptations, etc.)

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King in the mid-1960´s was doing some recording for Willie Dixon. One song was eventually issued on a Spivey LP (1009), "Korea Blues", a remake of "Love you baby". but it was miscredited to J.B Lenoir. According to Mae (Eddie´s sister), Dixon wanted her to record "Wang dang doodle" before Koko Taylor.
Eddie and Mae cut their first record together in 1967 for Chicago record man Leo Austell:" Are you pushed to love" b/w "Please Mr. D.J.", released on the Conduc label. The single, considerably better than his J.O.B. efforts, was more expertly produced. King had progressed to become a solid vocalist and he wails to good effect, while Mae provides solid answering leads. "Are you pushed to love" got Eddie and Mae on a prestigious Regal Theater Show along with Gatemouth Brown and Junior Parker, among others on an extensive blues bill. There King first met Koko Taylor, who would play a big role in his career in subsequent years.
In 1968, Eddie and Mae were discovered playing in a club on 63rd Street by a lady looking for bands to tour military bases and other outposts in Alaska. Says King, "She went all around town to try to find a band and we were the best she heard. She picked my group out of all of them. We went to Alaska twice. The first time was to Fairnbanks. We stayed up there Christmas through New Years, about two weeks. The second time, we went to Anchorage. Made good money!" Mae Bee May accompanied the band on the second tour, and gleefully relates, "I made so much money I had to sew it up in the lining of my coat!"
By the end of the 1960´s, Eddie King and Mae Bee May went their separate ways. King in 1971 teamed up with his old partner Willie Cobbs, and for a while broadcasted live from the Salt " Pepper ballroom (4740 W.Madison) on the West Side. The radio show was that of the club owner, deejay Big Bill Hill, on WOPA. During the mid-1970´s, King worked as Koko Taylor´s guitarist and traveled all over the country with her working alongside his old partner, bassist Bob Anderson, and his brother-in-law, drummer Vince Chappelle. King was on two tours of duty with Taylor, the second one ending in late 1975, just after she recorded her first album for Alligator.
In 1976 King was playing at the Show " Tell (1390 W.Lake) on the West Side with an all-star band led by drummer Willie Williams that included Willie Black on bass, Eddie C. Campbell on second lead guitar, and Eddie´s brother, vocalist Checker King, sitting in from time to time.

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By the early 1980´s, both King and Mae again (after playing gospel music for a while) become involved in secular music, working with their cousin Wilbert "Sir Lucky King" Peterson´s band around Peoria. Mae then returned to Chicago and King joined the Appeal Show Band (later to become Sting II and currently the Riverside Blues Band).
In 1985 King´s fortunes turn. He lost his job and house, and decided to return to Chicago, where old friends Louise Wilson and Johnny Drummer helped him land back on his feet. He lands a job as second guitar with the Little Smokey Smothers band at the Del Morocco on Lake and Halstead on the West Side. Sister Mae also begins "guesting" in the group. At this little matchbox-size bar Wisner sees King and Mae and offers them the opportunity to make an album (The Blues Has Got Me). At the same time their old West Side friend, harpist Big Wheeler, was booking them at another West Side bar called Pauline´s.

After the completion of the album in December 1985, events again separated Eddie and Mae. King rejoined Koko Taylor´s band in the spring of 1986, and Mae joined her husband near Atlanta, Georgia.

This text is part of the liner notes by Robert Pruter from Eddie King´s album The Blues Has Got Me.

As you all know by now, beware that the text above was written (copied) in 1996 (when I write this it´s Christmas 1998), Eddie King have very successfully made a new album - Another cow´s dead. Strange title to a great album! Eddie´s guitar is turned waaay up and he riffs and bends and slashes his guitar and voice, sometimes tearing the listener apart. Check the new one out - but please try to find the above mentioned LP. The blues has got me is the bluestrack from the eighties.


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Tommy Jansson