Bluesman King Ernest Killed In Van Wreck After Show

Bandmember reportedly falls asleep at wheel, drives vehicle off road.

Recording artist King Ernest (born Earnest Leon Baker) was killed early March 5, when a van carrying him and his band, the Wild Knights, overturned while en route to their home base of Los Angeles, following a performance, a representative at his label, Fat Possum Records, said.

Baker, a cousin of legendary blues singer Bobby "Blue" Bland, had just completed recording his Fat Possum debut.

"We'd just finished mixing on Thursday," Fat Possum's Mark Mauer said. "They all listened to it together. [Baker] said, 'Turn it up loud, ... and if it sounds good loud, it'll be OK.' He was happy with it."

Baker's last show was at Mothers Tavern, in San Luis Obispo, Calif., as part of the venue's Mardi Gras celebration. One of the bandmembers reportedly fell asleep at the wheel during the four-hour drive south from San Luis Obispo to L.A. The van went off the road, rolled over and hit a tree, shearing off its top. Baker, who it is believed was sleeping in the back, was killed when he was thrown from the vehicle. He was 60.

Baker was born in Natchez, Miss., and raised in Louisiana. As a child, he was part of Baker's Band Revue, a family act that included his father, grandfather and some of his 10 siblings.

In an interview published in Blues Access magazine (http://www.bluesaccess.com/No_29/ernest/html), he said of the band, "They weren't playing no blues. Had to be a lot of country & western, and maybe stuff like Sonny Boy Williamson, some of the blues players. ... I remember singing ["Baby Please Don't Go"] ... when I was 7 years old."

In the late '50s, Baker's career took him to Chicago, followed by New York, then back to the Windy City before ending up in L.A., where he got a job with the county sheriff's department in 1980. He retired from that job at 55 and began a show-business comeback.

He recorded his first full-length album, King of Hearts (1997) on the Evidence label and performed worldwide. He also was active in gospel music in Los Angeles churches, where he was known as Brother Baker.

His upcoming album, Blues Got Soul, was produced by Epitaph Records President Andy Kaulkin and probably will be released in July, Mauer said.