Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

“Lonesome Whistle Blues”: Train = Pain

Unnamed vocalists perfectly evoke a lonely late night train whistle on Freddy King‘s mournfully swinging “Lonesome Whistle Blues“:

“Lonesome Whistle Blues”

Freddy King (1961)

This song was catchy enough (#8 R&B) to cross over into Billboard‘s Top 100 Pop (#88) when released in April of 1961 on Federal, a subsidiary of King Records.

Freddy or Freddie?

The train of consensus has left the station – with no engineer

“Lonesome Whistle Blues” was recorded on January 17, 1961 in Cincinnati using local talent:  Philip Paul* (who still plays Saturdays with his jazz trio at The Cincinnatian Hotel) on drums, along with Sonny Thompson on piano, Bill Willis on bass, and (of course) Freddy on lead vocal and guitar [*check out Zero to 180’s extensive profile of Philip Paul from July 2018].

“Lonesome Whistle Blues” would end up being included on 1961 LP, Freddy King Sings.  1962 album, Freddy King Goes Surfin’, however, would inspire a rather funny set of comments from the fine folks at Sundazed/Rhino when reissued on vinyl in 2013:

Syd Nathan, impresario of Cincinatti‘s [oops] King Records, was the epitome of the old-school indie record label owner.  Always hustling, Nathan regularly beat the odds to release hit after hit in multiple genres.  He’d try anything if he thought it might work, or more precisely, if he thought it would make money.

After Chess Records turned down guitarist/vocalist Freddy King several times for sounding too much like B.B, King, Nathan thought that sound might actually be sellable and took a chance, signing Freddy to his Federal subsidiary label.  They hit paydirt with an instrumental titled “Hide Away,” which reached #5 on the R&B Chart and #29 on the Pop Singles Chart.

Encouraged by the single’s success, Nathan released a full album of King’s instrumentals, Let’s Hide Away and Dance Away with Freddy King.  (See what Nathan did there with the title, slipping in a reference to Freddy’s big hit single?  Always be closing, my friends, always be closing.)  The album sold well and helped make Freddy a bankable touring act.

While others would have been satisfied to move on to the next project, Syd sensed untapped potential in the LP.  Meanwhile, several artists on the West Coast were making noise in the brand new surf music scene (and by “making noise,” I mean selling records).  Syd didn’t have any surf music artists under contract, but he DID have Freddy King. Surely, Syd surmised, if the kid’s went nuts for Dick Dale’s guitar instrumental workouts, they could do the same for Freddy’s.  All he needed was a little marketing magic … GET A NEW COVER WITH SOME SURF KIDS!  THROW SOME CROWD NOISE OVER TRACKS SO IT SOUNDS ‘LIVE’!  CALL IT…ERR…FREDDY KING GOES SURFIN’! PRESS IT AND HAVE IT ON THE SHELVES BY NEXT WEEK!!!!!!!

While it may not have happened EXACTLY like that, King Records did release Freddy King Goes Surfin’, an album containing the very same songs (in precisely the same running order) as Let’s Hide Away… with crowd noise dubbed over the music. Did the ruse work? Though it didn’t sell as well as the original, Freddy King Goes Surfin’ did find an audience.  Like Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger, the album’s title is such a preposterous premise that it surely snagged many buyers on that fact alone.  And no amount of ersatz cheering and cocktail glass tinkling could cover up the six-string genius of King and his almighty Texas tone.  Need proof?  Fellow Lone Star blues maven Billy F. Gibbons picked Freddy King Goes Surfin’ as one of his Top Ten Favorite Blues Albums of All Time

Canada – 1961

“Lonesome Whistle Blues,” written by Rudy Toombs, Elson Teat, and James Moore (a.k.a. Slim Harpo), would also be included, oddly enough, in 1964 King compilation LP Top Rhythm & Blues Artists Do the Greatest Country Songs — the only recording on this album, curiously, that was not an R&B makeover of a honky tonk hit.

LINK to King Surf Cash-In LP #1

LINK to King Surf Cash-In LP #2

LINK to Cash-In Albums +/- 45s

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