Early one morning in October, local blues guitarist and singer Little Freddie King left his 9th Ward home on his bicycle, bound for a grocery store. The sun had not fully risen, so he didn't see the scrap lumber jutting from a pile of curbside garbage on Bartholomew Street.
The ensuing collision sent the 77-year-old musician tumbling over his bike's handlebars. He landed on his head.
His helmet saved him from a possible skull fracture, but he still suffered significant damage. His right eye was nearly swollen shut by a contusion. Both wrists were sprained, as was his right shoulder.
Most seriously, his spinal cord had been compressed, causing temporary paralysis in both arms to the point that he couldn't lift himself up.
A passing truck driver stopped and helped him to his feet. Using the bicycle as a crutch, King walked the two blocks back to his house in the Musicians' Village and called "Wacko" Wade Wright, his drummer and manager of 24 years.
Wright rushed to King's house. "He looked like he was in a fight," Wright recalled this week. "He was pretty banged up."
He soon regained feeling in his arms, but his left hand remained paralyzed. Wright convinced him to go to the hospital, fearful that King's performing days were over: "I thought we were finished."
King spent several days at University Medical Center. Doctors were concerned about the potential for additional trauma to his spinal cord. They recommended surgery to insert a support at the base of his skull, to reinforce his neck vertebrae.
He was on the gurney in the operating room when he changed his mind. The possibility that surgeons might cut into the front of his neck, in addition to the back, spooked him. He told Wright, "My vocal cords are more important to me."
King's left hand remained numb. For a month, he diligently exercised it with a massage ball. This week, he finally regained enough sensation to start playing guitar again.
He plans to return to the stage for the first time since the accident Saturday night at d.b.a. on Frenchmen Street. He and his band are scheduled to play two sets, starting at 11 p.m.
King still wears a neck brace, but doctors cleared him to remove it while onstage. He's tentatively scheduled to undergo surgery in January, but may once again opt out, Wright said, especially if his recovery continues to progress.
He is nothing if not determined. As a young man, King hopped a freight train from his native Mississippi to New Orleans. For decades he worked various jobs, living a hardscrabble life that inspired his blues hobby.
Since teaming up with Wright more than two decades ago, he's released albums at a steady clip while increasing his bookings both locally and abroad. He's performed at almost every New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Given his history and his striking appearance -- he's fond of sharp, colorful suits and hats -- he's occasionally recruited for special appearances. He's featured in Beyonce's much-acclaimed "Lemonade" visual album. Levi's paired him with Irma Thomas, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Kidd Jordan and other musicians for a worldwide social media advertising campaign. Nikon blew him up larger than life on a promotional banner outside a Manhattan camera shop.
In April, King appeared on the cover of High Life, British Airways' in-flight magazine, to herald the airlines' new, nonstop service between New Orleans and London. The glossy, stylized cover identified him as the "world-renowned, chicken-pickin', string-pulling, show-stoppin', freight train hoppin', master of electricity, king of the gut-bucket blues, his royal highness Little Freddie King."
He's a major blues star in Europe, and generally makes two forays overseas annually. On Dec. 26, he's scheduled to depart for a week's worth of engagements at the Umbria Winter Jazz Festival in Italy. The bicycle accident jeopardized the lucrative Italian trip, but King now intends to make the journey.
"I told him, 'I don't care if you've got to play with your tongue and toes, we're going to Italy,'" Wright said. "But he's pretty persistent."
A bicycle has been King's primary means of transportation for years; the cover of his 2012 album "Chasing tha Blues" shows him barreling full-speed ahead. But he's unlikely to climb aboard his "two-wheel Cadillac" again any time soon.
"We'll get him a three-wheeler," Wright said. "A three-wheeler won't flip as easily."
Meanwhile, King is ready to resume his career this weekend.
"He's a classic," Wright said. "You hate to lose a classic."