Blues for Freddie

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Indeed, there have been only a handful of official Freddie King releases in the 22 years since his death. One, Live at the Electric Ballroom, 1974, was released in 1995 by the Dallas-based TopCat Records, owned by Richard Chalk and Tom Loughborough. The disc, which features a concert appearance in Atlanta and a radio-studio interview and performance done with local disc jockey Jon Dillon, was later reissued by the New Orleans-based Black Top label and given national distribution, which Wanda says eventually became a "headache" after Black Top fell on financial hard times and she had trouble getting paid by the company. Roy Ames is only the beginning of her troubles, not the end.

Ames, on the other hand, accuses King's attorney, Houston-based David Showalter, of attacking him in court case after court case because Showalter wants to release King's music on his own label, GoldRhyme Music Company. Ames points to another lawsuit, this one brought against him in 1995 by Showalter on behalf of 15 Houston blues musicians and their estates, as proof. However, Ames was ordered in that case to pay $121,500 to 13 of the musicians for copyright infringement and misappropriation. That case is also on appeal in New Orleans.

Ames insists he has the right to license the Texas Opry House recordings to anyone he wants because he and Freddie King were old friends and had agreed to work together. Ames says he and King met when Ames worked as the sales manager for the now-defunct Cincinnati-based Federal/King Records label, which released some of Freddie King's best-known recordings--including such staples as "Hide Away" and "I'm Tore Down"--during the early 1960s.

Other than his word, Ames has nothing to prove that he and King ever knew each other, much less entered into a business deal. During an interview with the Dallas Observer, Ames insists that "at one time" he and King did indeed have a written contract, "but I am unable to find--either that, or I never got around to signing it." He insists that shortly before King's death in December 1976, the guitar player was on his way to Houston to sign yet another deal to record for Ames.

Ames says that anyone who wants to see his contract with Freddie King is "expecting too much." Though he does not want to discuss his stay in federal prison from November 1975 to December 1986--he served time for distributing pornography through the mail--Ames says that during his incarceration, many of his business records were lost.

But Wanda King says that she has copies of every contract her father signed during his career, and that there exists no agreement between Ames and Freddie King. She also says her father never recorded for Ames.

Perhaps the reason Ames keeps finding himself on the wrong side of these legal judgments is that he often contradicts himself. At first, he tells the Observer that he recorded the Texas Opry House concert and that he attended the show. Then, in the next sentence, he says he doesn't know whether he was present at the show or not.

"I don't remember how [the recording] came about," he says. "I started recording people in 1959. Do you remember what you were doing on a Monday night in 1971? I have been at dozens of Freddie King concerts."

Though Ames claims he paid for the recording of the show, he also said during the trial he didn't know from whom he had obtained the master tapes. But earlier, in a deposition taken in the Houston case, Ames told Showalter he had received the tapes from Freddie's brother, Bennie Turner, who also was King's bassist from 1959 until King's death in 1976.

At trial, Turner testified that during his tenure in King's band, he never once met Ames and insisted he never gave Ames the Texas Opry House masters. Ames says Turner is lying. Ames also staked out a different position during the trial, claiming he might have gotten the masters from the sound engineer who recorded the concert at the Texas Opry House, though he does not recall the man's name.

In 1988, Ames began licensing the Texas Opry House masters to overseas labels, including P-Vine in Japan and Magnum in Europe--even though Ames had no written proof of his "contract" with Freddie King. Since his release from prison, Ames has been snapping up lost master tapes, acetates, even 45-rpm singles recorded by Texas musicians both famous and obscure. He also collects and releases singles originally released on defunct Texas labels. Much of his catalog is made up of tapes that were abandoned in old buildings, garages, and closets. And even he admits that he doesn't do much checking to see who owns the music. As far as he's concerned, the stuff is public domain, his to release and profit from as he sees fit.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky