Up all night with Freddie King
I got to tell you, poker’s his thing
Grand Funk Railroad was a joke. Hyped by radio advertising regarding their supposed success at the Atlanta Pop Festival they were the original heartland rock act, loved in the flyover states, when those still existed, abhorred on the coasts.
Until the third album, not even a year after the first, featured one of those derivative tracks, imitating the FM extended format, that somehow fit right in the pocket, proving you should always question your preconceptions, people will surprise you, the truth is over the years I’ve come to like “I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home” even more, I never switch stations on Sirius when it comes on, as for terrestrial, the track at 9:59 is just too long, then again, I haven’t listened to commercial radio in fifteen years, only the cheapest non-fans do, funny how we base the whole hit business upon the format.
But then Grand Funk went straight back into the dumper, only to emerge in the fall of ’73 with an album of gold vinyl produced by…Todd Rundgren? You’d think the wizard, the true star, would avoid this meat and potatoes act like the plague, then again, it’s hard to turn down a check, and the result was…
“We’re An American Band.”
Now back in ’73, all I had was an AM radio in my ’63 Chevy convertible, so I heard this on a regular basis, when I could get reception in the hinterlands of Vermont.
And this is a three and a half minute nugget, made for radio.
And featuring insider rock references that made you wonder…were Grand Funk HIP?
That’s right, Sweet Connie, the groupie from Little Rock.
But also, that reference to…
Someone who never flew on our radar while we were listening to FM radio. The musicians, especially the English, may have been inspired by the bluesmen, but except for Bonnie Raitt, few featured them, we knew the names, but rarely, if ever, heard them.
But somehow we knew “Going Down.”
How did we?
It was a barroom staple, back when they had bands in bars, kinda like “Louie Louie” or “In The Midnight Hour,” everybody knew it. One figured it had a writer, somebody back in the fifties or even thirties, who probably was getting screwed on their royalties.
But research told me it was written by Don Nix.
Hmm… I used to see his name on Leon Russell and Shelter albums. Delaney & Bonnie. “Bangladesh.” Back when credits were our education and there was no internet to go any deeper.
And although Jeff Beck does a rollicking version of “Going Down,” the original was cut by a band called Moloch, on their 1969 album. I don’t think you’ve ever heard it, at least as evidenced by Spotify statistics, where the track has got all of 4,716 streams, and there are not many more on YouTube.
I was stunned the song was so new.
But not as much as I was stunned by Freddie King’s 1971 version, produced by Don Nix and Leon Russell.
Yes, the Master of Space & Time begins the number with a rollicking piano, as if he’s in a bar in Tulsa and no one from the coast is aware of what is happening.
And then come Freddie’s accents, his wailing, his reputation, not overplaying, not showing off, just getting right.
I’m going down
I’m going down, down, down, down, down
And he’s not oversinging either, just straight from the heart, straight from the juke joint, just for those in the room, not those at home. But then…
Yes, I’m going down, yes
I’m going down, down, down, down, down
Now he’s warming up.
Yes, I’ve got my big feet in the window
Got my head on the ground
Now his throat is involved, all his passion, this is his story, and he doesn’t care what you think of it, he’s just got to tell it.
And the solo is so soulful, you feel as if you’re playing, stepping from one foot to another as you’re whipping off the notes.
He’s going back to Chattanooga, a city those north of the Mason-Dixon Line can’t even spell, never mind been there. Via boxcar, to sleep on sister Irene’s door.
This is the blues.
This is rock.
This is the foundation.
And you’d better not listen unless you want to be infected, want to go down the rabbit hole, find out you’ve missed something and need to know more.
Now I know why Freddie King is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.