Earl King, 69; R&B; Guitarist Was a Prolific Songwriter

From Associated Press

Earl King, the songwriter and guitarist responsible for some of the most enduring and idiosyncratic compositions in R&B;, has died. He was 69.

King died Thursday from complications related to diabetes.

Over a 50-year career, King wrote and recorded hundreds of songs. His best-known compositions include the Mardi Gras standards “Big Chief” and “Street Parade”; the rollicking “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll),” which both Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan recorded; and “Trick Bag,” the quintessential New Orleans R&B; story-song.

“ ‘Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)’ might be the one that people know, but I wish the world would hear more of his songs,” said Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack, a longtime friend and collaborator. “He approached songs from different angles, from different places in life.”


In his prime, he was an explosive performer, tearing sinewy solos from his Stratocaster guitar and wearing his hair in an elaborate, upraised coif.

King’s songwriting was informed by syncopated New Orleans beats and his interest in a broad range of subjects, from medieval history to the vagaries of the human heart.

“Most people say, ‘Well, Earl, you sing the blues,’ or however they want to categorize it,” King said in a 1993 interview. “I just sing songs. I’m a writer, so whatever gymnastics jump through my head, I write about it.”

Born Earl Silas Johnson IV in New Orleans, King described himself as a “nervous energy person” who constantly needed to be engaged in creative pursuit.

He cut his first singles in the early 1950s, taking on the stage name Earl King at the suggestion of a record promoter.

Scenes and acquaintances from his life often found their way into his lyrics. A story King’s grandmother told about his father, a blues pianist, inspired “Trick Bag.”