By rights, Ed King should have been a guitar hero twice over, as a key member of both Strawberry Alarm Clock and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Born in Glendale, California, King was attracted to the guitar at an early age, learning to play some Dick Dale-style surf music without a lot of style or success in the early '60s. It wasn't until he started listening to the Beatles in 1964 that he began learning in earnest and, ironically enough, found himself drawn more toward the bass from studying their music. He became proficient on both instruments, and was soon one of the more prodigious players in his area. By his mid-teens, in the mid-'60s, King was earning 75 dollars a week playing in bands that performed at various military bases. He joined a group called the Sixpence, which cut a string of small-time singles on the All-American label in 1966 and early 1967, saw a huge amount of success locally, and evolved into Strawberry Alarm Clock. At age 18, he was riding a number one hit with "Incense and Peppermints," a song that he conceived with organist Mark Weitz and then saw taken away from him as far as the songwriting credits went.
King was all over the hit and the subsequent album, not only playing lead guitar throughout but also writing lots of the songs and playing a wide range of instruments. He toured extensively with the band off of the hit for months, playing all over the country and sharing stages and billings with the Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, the Who, and Jimi Hendrix. He was central to their sound on-stage and also as a composer, turning in a follow-up hit single with Weitz in the form of "Tomorrow" early in 1968. On that album and the group's two subsequent LPs, King played lots of bass as well as guitar, and he switched to the four-string instrument virtually full-time when Bob Pitman joined the lineup in early 1969. At that point, the group came close to imploding amid business and legal disputes that made touring impossible for a time, even as their record sales plummeted, and when the smoke cleared King was back on lead guitar, leading what was now a shell of the original Strawberry Alarm Clock.
He kept the group going for two years, until 1971, and in the course of their work crossed paths with a new Southern band called Lynyrd Skynyrd, who opened for the Alarm Clock a few times on tour. When he became free of the old band, Skynyrd offered him a spot as one of their three lead guitarists, and for the next three years King was in the national spotlight, on the group's first three albums and the tours that followed, in addition to forming a writing collaboration with lead singer Ronnie Van Zant. He left the band in 1975, and, thus, avoided the plane crash that killed Van Zant and a major part of the group lineup in 1977. Ten years later, he joined the reactivated Skynyrd and remained with them into the 1990s. Later, relaxing in the relative security of the royalty income from the group's still-popular catalog, King pursued music on a more modest stage, occasionally playing with Skynyrd tribute bands and, as he told Gary James in an interview, working with alumni from various other 1970s outfits, including Billy Joel's and Ted Nugent's bands. After battling lung cancer, Ed King died in Nashville, Tennessee in August 2018 at the age of 68. ~ Bruce Eder