On Jan. 24, 2016, Willie Nelson‘s former guitarist, Jackie King, passed away from a heart attack at the age of 71.
King and Nelson shared a mutually supportive relationship, having each shared their talents on the other’s albums and playing together on the road for decades. In 1984, King played on Nelson’s Angel Eyes album, resulting in the 1986 cameo by Nelson on King’s Night Bird. In 2000, King was also featured (vocals and guitar) on Nelson’s album, The Gypsy, followed soon thereafter by a writing credit on the Grammy-nominated The Great Divide.
King’s talent has been long recognized by the greats, and was one that developed in the late musician during his childhood. His father taught him the mandolin and guitar, leading him to professional shows in his hometown of San Antonio by the time he was twelve.
Upon the insistence of friend Doug Sahm (“Mendocino”, “She’s About a Mover”), King headed to San Francisco to join a jazz-rock group, releasing two albums. Having developed his skills more as he embarked on a musical career path, King lent instrumental support to jazz icons Chet Baker, Sonny Stitt, Merl Saunders, and other artists.
While in California, continuing to work in the jazz circuit, King was offered a position teaching at the Guitar Institute of Technology in Los Angeles. It was there that King gained the experience and confidence to open his own facility, Southwest Guitar Conservatory, in his hometown. After teaching others for seven years, King closed up shop, ultimately joining Nelson’s band and focusing on a career as a performer.
King’s career extended far beyond the Nelson stage, having also performed with Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis, Jerry Garcia, Lenny Breau, Les Paul, Pat Martino, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Tal Farlow. In his capacity as backing musician and performer, King touched the lives of those with whom he played; including Mr. Willie Nelson.
“I think of myself more now as a songwriter than I do a guitar player because of guys like Jackie King,” Nelson said. “It’s humbling to be in the presence of that kind of talent.”