Freddie King
"Texas Flyer 1974-1976 Bear Family 5-CD box set"
Bear Family Records

Blueswax Rating 7

80 % Live Tracks, 20 % Studio Performances = 50% of Solid Entertainment

The Bear Family Records folks must be huge Freddie King fans. Why do I say that? Just about one year ago they released a seven-disc box, Taking Care of Business 1956-1973, that was previously reviewed by yours truly for BluesWax. So this Texas Flyer 1974-1976 chronologically picks up where that previous release ended with four CDs of live performances and one CD of studio tracks and alternates.

Disc One contains all in-studio tracks mostly produced by Mike Vernon offering a solid lineup of stellar studio musicians recorded in the U.K. Just about all these tunes are sonically crisp and clear and definitely stand the test of time even though they were recorded more than thirty-five years ago. Standouts include "Pack It Up," "Only Getting Second Best" (with keyboard wizard Brian Auger), and the rousing instrumental "Pulp Wood." The great Tom Dowd also produced five tunes with Eric Clapton and his band from 1974 recorded at the legendary Criteria Studios in Miami. The most memorable is Freddie's "Boogie Funk" where Clapton and King feverishly tear it up. The remaining four discs are recorded live and in concert, some of which are strong, others not.

Disc Two contains five tracks recorded in Austin, Texas, at Armadillo World Headquarters from 1975 and features a fairly large band with a three-piece horn section that smolders, especially when the late great David "Fathead" Newman is given room to wail. Paul Butterfield's "You Can Run, But You Can't Hide" kicks off this run, smartly followed by a wonderful reading of B.B. King's "Woke Up This Morning" that burns.

The remaining nine live songs emanate from Ultrasonic Recording Studios in Long Island, New York, that was also simulcast on WLIR-FM late in 1974. Back in the day, WLIR broadcast a ton of live recordings, some from these studios and others from the now defunct My Father's Place Club in Roslyn, Long Island. I used to listen to many of these broadcasts, but I don't recall this one. For me this live session is the pinnacle of this box set. It is here we find Freddie fronting a smaller six-piece ensemble, no horns. King and the band are on fire throughout, especially on the opening "Big Leg Woman (With a Short Short Mini Skirt)," Elmore James' "Look On Yonder Wall," and a blistering "Boogie Funk" instrumental.

Disc Three fades in to a short, boiling jam that becomes yet another rendering of "Big Leg Woman." Weird! This edition of King's 1975 band is similar in size to the WLIR broadcast with minor changes in personal, but the quality of this performance is not as strong. Standing out is King's classic instrumental "Hideaway," which also tips its hat at the "Peter Gunn Theme." Sweet! But the only other song that attracted my attention was on Earl King's "Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)."

Disc Four is not as well recorded as the previous discs. The band shrinks in size and the songs become longer, the musician credits, recording date, and venue location liner notes are now a foregone conclusion. The songs have that mid '70's drug culture feel, especially on an uncredited instrumental, "Funk Instrumental" that segues into a lengthy "Going Down," authored by Don Nix, a song King took and made his own. Nine minutes of "You're the One" is mostly King rambling through it talking to the crowd, segueing "Stormy Monday" into Isaac Hayes and David Porter's "Little Bluebird," which had me yawning.

Disc Five, for the most part just plods, especially on Jimmy Reed's "Signals of Love" and "Woman Across the Water." Rock covers like Bob Dylan's "Meet Me In the Morning" are also in slow motion. Dave Mason's "Feeling Alright" is pretty okay, but it's becoming a little obvious that Mr. King was having to change his song selections to retain an appropriate audience.

"Hideaway" does bounce along nicely and segues into B. Lenoir's "The Mojo." There must have been a venue change because on another take of "Little Bluebird" the sound quality dramatically improves as does King and his bands performance.

Last, but not least, Don Robey and Joe Veasey's "Farther On Up the Road" closes this recording, and it's a great version. Recorded on the King Biscuit Flower Hour show in Dallas just about one month prior to King's passing, Freddie is sitting in with Clapton and his band consisting of Carl Radle on bass, George Terry on second guitar, Jamie Oldaker drums, Dick Sims keyboards, and Sergio Pastora on percussion. It's a burning rendition where Clapton and King fire off each other, with Clapton taking the final solo at breakneck speed and power, giving me the opinion that EC did not want to be overshadowed by his hero's dynamite playing.

In summary, about half of the music on this five-CD set is of high quality. The other half left me with the feeling that the label was searching for good reasons to make this a sizeable offering at a fat retail price. In fairness, the construction of this box set is solid and also includes an eighty-page hardcover book filled with good amounts of meaningful information from reissue producer Bill Dahl. Other contributing writers like David Maxwell add to this classy book. There are also quotes from Johnny Jones, producer Mike Vernon, Darrell Leonard, and Jimmie Vaughan. Clapton's also quoted as saying that Freddie King was the most stimulating musician he played with. Two obits from Melody Maker and Rolling Stone magazines are also tasteful additions.

One major complaint is with the five individual jewel boxes, other than the disc number, and track listings, there's virtually no difference between them, no liner notes are offered, making it necessary to continually refer to the far clumsier eighty-page book. Plus, there's only a one-page front tray sheet. This is odd when you consider all of the good research work that went into making this box. One would have thought that a little more detail could have been thrown at each individual jewel box for some needed reference factoids. Unfortunately this is not the case!

Bob Putignano: