On August 22, we lost guitarist and songwriter Ed King, known for his work in the psychedelic rock group The Strawberry Alarm Clock, in the ‘60s, and the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, in the ‘70s. We review both bands.
By Warren Kurtz
Ed King on the left
1967 was a year filled with psychedelic-rock groups with unusual names of seemingly unrelated words. During the Thanksgiving holiday break, The Strawberry Alarm Clock reached the number one position with their debut hit single “Incense and Peppermints.” Guitarist and arranger Ed King co-wrote this single, although he was not credited on the record.
The next two singles, from the group’s second album, Wake Up…It’s Tomorrow, were co-written by Ed King and keyboardist Mark Weitz and shared a similar sound and a “live in the moment” theme. The first was “Tomorrow,” which declared “right now I am with you” and a repeated bridge containing the words “we live in a world of carnivals and clowns.” The writers’ guitar and keyboards were also prominent. This single was in the Top 40 from late January through early March, and reached number 23. The next single, released while some of The Beatles were still in India with Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi (sketch of him on the album cover), was called “Sit With the Guru.” The writers invited the listeners to “turn your mind on” with “meditation, high, high where eagles fly.” The prominent repeated question of “How many tomorrows can you see?” seemed to link this song back to the prior single “Tomorrow.” Ed King’s swirling arrangement at the end paralleled what George Martin brought to The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” finale, with a unique xylophone sound also in the mix.
After Susan Strasberg’s 1967 hippie film The Trip and before Jack Nicholson’s breakthrough role in 1969’s Easy Rider, the two stars were among the cast in 1968’s Psych-Out, with music including songs from The Strawberry Alarm Clock. During their love scene, a lyrically lengthy pretty song was played, which Ed King co-wrote with fellow group guitarist Lee Freeman. The song included two bridges. The first began with, “Put your trust in me and try to see that all you need is here.” The second bridge shifted to ¾ time before returning to its original time signature and more vocal power, similar to what the Association brought to “Everything That Touches You” that year. Without a chorus or repeated words, the song’s title became “Pretty Song from ‘Psych-Out’,” and was also used as the flip side of “Sit With the Guru.”
The Strawberry Alarm Clock
Flip side: Pretty Song from “Psych-Out”
A side: Sit With the Guru
Top 100 debut: March 16, 1968
Peak position: 65
The Strawberry Alarm Clock placed two more singles in the Top 100 through 1969. In the early ‘70s the band broke up and Ed King joined their southern opening act Lynyrd Skynyrd and remained with them for their first three albums.
Ed King on the right
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s debut album, produced by Al Kooper, included the lengthy FM radio staple “Free Bird.” The band featured the three guitar sound of Ed King, Gary Rossington and Allen Collins, with Ronnie Van Zant as the Jacksonville group’s lead singer. Ed King co-wrote “Poison Whiskey” with Ronnie Van Zant as the song on the second side of the album which precedes the nine minute “Free Bird” finale.
The album Second Helping followed and featured their Top 40 breakthrough hit single, “Sweet Home Alabama,” written by Ed King, Gary Rossington and Ronnie Van Zant. Billy Powell’s piano was also prominent on this number. Ten years ago, in the summer of 2008, Kid Rock referenced and sampled “Sweet Home Alabama” on his hit single “All Summer Long.” Ed King’s name is first on the songwriting credits on the Kid Rock recording. He also co-wrote “Swamp Music” and the humorous “Workin’ for MCA” with Ronnie Van Zant for the second album, along with the flip side of the “Sweet Home Alabama” single, which was not included on the album, “Take Your Time.” While “Free Bird” was dedicated to Duane Allman, “Take Your Time,” running over seven minutes, also sounded heavily influenced by the lengthier blues numbers on the first two albums of The Allman Brothers Band. Lynyrd Skynyrd fans searched years for used copies of “Sweet Home Alabama” in order to own this flip side, at least through 1997 when “Take Your Time” finally appeared on the CD version of Second Helping as a bonus track.
Flip side: Take Your Time
A side: Sweet Home Alabama
Top 100 debut: July 27, 1974
Peak position: 8
In 1975, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s third album, Nuthin’ Fancy, brought them their third Top 40 hit “Saturday Night Special,” another Ed King and Ronnie Van Zant composition. That songwriting duo also brought “Railroad Song” to the album along with the finale “Whiskey Rock-a-Roller,” which they co-wrote with Billy Powell.
When surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited in the mid-‘80s, Ed King returned to the band and remained with the group through the mid-‘90s.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.