Little Freddie King, New Orleans’ genuine electric-country blues man, will turn 75 on July 19.
“I can’t thank God enough for it,” King said of his longevity. “In my mind, I’m still 15 or 16 years old. I hauled off and jumped straight up like a spring and fell back down. I wondered what was going on.
“I thought, ‘Well, your body’s got your mileage, your age on it.’ That’s the difference. Just like the things I used to do, I can’t do them anymore — but I think about them all the time.”
Prior to his landmark birthday in July, King will make his 45th appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on April 26.
“Thank God to Quint Davis (Jazz Fest producer-director), that he likes me and holds on to me,” King said.
King and his band are performing this Thursday at d.b.a. on Frenchmen Street and Saturday at Hogs for the Cause in City Park. On April 11, he’ll make an afternoon appearance at the French Quarter Festival and play an album-release show that evening at d.b.a.
In other King developments, a portrait of him by local artist Tami Curtis adorns one of this year’s French Quarter Festival posters.
“My blues-loving fans,” he says on his website, “I have been deeply honored in being selected for the 2015 French Quarter Festival poster.”
King recorded his 12th album, “Messin’ Around Tha Livin’ Room,” at The Living Room Recording Studio, a former church in Algiers. “Wacko” Wade Wright, the singer-guitarist’s longtime drummer, produced the project.
It’s ironic that a blues record was recorded in a former church. Historically, blues men and church folks don’t mix.
“It’s like when we played spiritual songs, stuff like that is all right,” the Baptist-raised King said. “But if you play the blues, well, the devil’s going to get you.”
King believes no such thing.
“Actually, the blues comes from everything,” he said. “And the gospel, jazz and all music came from the blues. Which they didn’t understand. The blues is a history, the tribulations that you have been through.”
If someone has a talent, such as music, King believes, he or she should use it but always in a respectable way.
“If you’re doing wrong things with that, it’s definitely going to take your mind the wrong way,” he said. “But if you’re playing the blues right, as a job, and there’s a history that you done been through with it, that is not a sin.”
King’s personal music history dates to his childhood in McComb, Mississippi, where his daddy played guitar.
“He’d get off from work and come sit on the front porch in a rocking chair and play,” King recalled. “I loved it and I watched him all the time. I asked him, ‘Why don’t learn me how to play guitar?’ He said, ‘Well, boy, it’s a hard job to do, but I can show you some chords.’ ”
The whupping King received after he broke a string on his daddy’s guitar convinced him to let it be. But like many creative, musically inclined youngsters in the rural South, King built his own guitar.
He made a resonating body from a cigar box. He transformed wood from his family’s picket fence into a guitar neck and tuning pegs and wire into frets. He also made black paint from fireplace soot and pine resin.
And after King noticed the swooshing sound made by his daddy’s horse’s tail, the horse, reluctantly, provided strings.
Jumping a train, King traveled to New Orleans in 1957. Money he earned at a gas station allowed him to buy his first real guitar, an acoustic Silvertone from Sears, Roebuck and Co.
A Sears record player and three 45 rpm records (by Jimmy Reed, B.B. King and Lightnin’ Hopkins) helped King, too. Slowing the 45s down to the 33 1?3 speed, he learned the songs, verse by verse, note by note. “And I just kept on at it.”
Later, in a band featuring fellow Mississippi native Harmonica Williams, King performed in Slidell, Covington and Shrewsbury.
The group released an album, “Rock ’n’ Roll Blues,” in 1971. That album is collector’s item now, but King didn’t release a follow-up until 1997’s “Swamp Boogie.” He’s since issued many recordings and performed throughout the world.
A blues man who’s outlived many of his peers, including two more Mississippi natives, Guitar Slim and Bo Diddley, the grateful, more-famous-than-ever King sees himself as a fortunate man.
“Thank the good Lord for letting me see another day,” he said.