For a blues musician to change his surname to King to get attention may seem a bit on the ludicrous side, kind of like an actor or actress changing his or her name to Barrymore. But this is just what guitarist Eddie Milton did when he transformed himself into Eddie King, becoming in the process the least well-known of the blues guitar King dynasty; despite his tireless efforts as a sideman with many blues greats, as well as a career as a bandleader during the later part of his life. He was born Edward Lewis Davis Milton in Alabama, eventually gravitating toward the busy blues scene of Chicago's South and West Side in the late '50s and '60s. His earliest musical influences were his parents, including a father who apparently played country blues guitar in the John Lee Hooker style. His mother was also a blues and gospel singer. As a youngster, he was too young to get into blues clubs, but learned guitar by smushing his face up against the windows, watching the guitarists in action, memorizing the patterns and runs he saw on the fret board, then finally sprinting home to see if he could remember any of it. Milton's musical peers were players from the second generation of Windy City bluesmen who came up on the sounds of artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter. Some of these associates, such as Luther Allison, Magic Sam, Junior Wells, and Freddie King, became fairly big on the international blues scene; while others, such as the wonderful Eddie C. Campbell or Milton, became better known as typical examples of high quality blues artists that were basically laboring in obscurity.
A fairly short fellow, he learned to get around the taller and sometimes somewhat better guitar competition by learning to be a showman. "Little Eddie" was actually his first stage name, obviously leading to confusion with the rhythm & blues artist Little Milton. When he began picking in a style heavily influenced by B.B. King, Little Eddie King became first a nickname only used by friends, but evolved into a stage name as well. Another diminutive bluesman, Little Mac Simmons, gave him his first big break, although the reason for the hiring might have had more to do with not wanting to have any taller sidemen on-stage than his musical ability. Eddie King's first recordings were with bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon, leading to a second guitar position on several Sonny Boy Williamson II sides in 1960. The next major period in his career was as lead guitarist with Koko Taylor. He was with this fiery blues singer for more than two decades. In 1969, he and bassist Bob Stroger formed Eddie King & the Kingsmen, a group that worked together off and on for the next 15 years, at first overlapping with the Taylor stint. From the early '80s onward, he has been based out of Peoria, IL. Into his 60s, he still was playing with the energy of a young man. His first solo record finally came out while others his age were busy concentrating on collecting their senior citizen's benefits, the well-received but obscure Another Cow's Dead on a small label co-owned by a belly dancer. This album won a W.C. Handy Award for best comeback album of the year.
Besides his exciting guitar work, King is also known as a superior soul shouter, again in a style modeled after the singing of B.B. King. He still presents a mixed bag from blues history, ranging from modern urban blues to the type of country blues he grew up with. He has also ventured into the Southern soul genre, and will mix up the material of a given gig based on what the audience is responding best to. Young players such as bassist Jamie Jenkins, drummer Kevin Gray, and Doug Daniels doubling on sax and keyboards have been regular members of his combos. As a bandleader, King demonstrated that he may be a late bloomer as a songwriter, but that in blues it is never too late to come up with good material, including the hilarious tune "Kitty Kat." The Swamp Bees is the name of his own group since the '90s, and this outfit has swarmed onto stages at blues venues nationally and internationally. ~ Eugene Chadbourne