Vocalist King Ernest came up singing in the lively Chicago blues club scene of the 1950s and '60s, sharing stages with the likes of Tyrone Davis, Syl Johnson, and Little Milton Campbell. Born and raised in Natchez, MS, he learned basic blues from his father, a sharecropper who used to play guitar at local juke joints. After a year at Southern University in Baton Rouge, he moved to Chicago, where he found his inspiration in clubs that hosted the likes of Muddy Waters and Chester Burnett, better known as Howlin' Wolf. His first professional shows in Chicago were with guitarist Byther Smith. Later, he discovered the soul-blues stylings of singers like Syl Johnson and Tyrone Davis. These singers made a bigger impact on his own singing style, and he established a reputation in Chicago's club scene in the early '60s as Good Rockin' Ernie.
In 1964, Baker left Chicago for New York City, where a new band he formed there gave him the nickname "King" for his wild dancing antics on-stage. In 1965, Baker recorded his first single, "I Feel Alright" b/w "I'm So Tired," for the Old Town label, and enjoyed modest success through the '60s on the East Coast's R&B club circuit until returning to Chicago in 1967. He remained in Chicago for another ten years, recording a number of singles for Chicago labels, including Sonic, Barry, and his own Blue Soul Records. But recognition on a national level still eluded Baker, who moved to Los Angeles in 1980. After a record deal he had there failed to come to fruition, he dropped out and took a job with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, doing most of his singing in church as a member of the Crenshaw Christian Center Choir.
After retiring from his day job, he began playing shows again at L.A. nightclubs, and his powerful vocals and still-energetic stage persona quickly attracted a small legion of dedicated fans to his club shows. After being discovered by promoter and producer Randy Chortkoff, he began touring up and down the California coast and into Canada.
His debut album for Evidence Records, King of Hearts, released in 1997, helped to expand his audience from a regional following in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to an international following. On the recording, Baker offered up his interpretations of songs by Charlie Musselwhite, Hound Dog Taylor, Junior Parker, and Harold Burrage. He also tackled "Better Days," a track co-written by guitarist Jimmy Rip and vocalist Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. Appropriately, Rip accompanied King Ernest on this track on the album. Blues Got Soul followed three years later, and unfortunately it would be his last recording. King Ernest was killed in an automobile accident on March 4, 2000. ~ Richard Skelly