Earl King, prolific songwriter-guitarist responsible for some of the most famous and enduring compositions in R&B, including “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll).” died Thursday from diabetes-related complications in New Orleans. He was 69.
During his 50-year career, he wrote and recorded hundreds of songs, among the best best-known beside “Come On” being the Mardi Gras standards “Big Chief” and “Street Parade” as well as “Trick Bag,” the quintessential New Orleans R&B story-song.
The rollicking “Come On” was a hit for both Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
In his prime, he was an explosive performer, tearing sinewy solos from his Stratocaster guitar and wearing his hair in an elaborate, upraised coif.
Born Earl Silas Johnson IV, he cut his first singles in the early 1950s, taking on the stage name Earl King at the suggestion of a record promoter.
“Those Lonely, Lonely Nights” became one of Mr. King’s first regional hits. His recording of “Trick Bag” for Imperial Records reached No. 17 on Billboard’s R&B chart in 1962.
After an abortive affiliation with Motown Records, he returned to writing and recording songs in New Orleans. Unlike many artists from the golden age of R&B, he retained the publishing rights to his compositions and was able to live off them.
He was coaxed out of semiretirement by young musicians who grew up on his music, including members of the Rhapsodizers, and enjoyed a career renaissance after recording and releasing several well-received albums for the local Black Top Records label, the first being Grammy-nommed “Glazed” in 1986.
Survivors information was incomplete, but they could include many of the people he influenced, including Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) and other singer-songwriters.