Friday, February 22, 2013

Magic Slim: Obituary

Check out this obituary of Magic Slim from Don Wilcock of American Blues Scene:

Veteran Chicago blues artist Magic Slim passed away on Thursday, February 21, 2013 after several months of illness. A consistent crowd pleaser, Magic played with a raw-boned intensity not often found in artists his age and reflective of such seminal Chicago blues giants as Howlin’ Wolf. He was able to capture that rough tone in scores of albums working with producers including Dick Shurman and Poppa Chubby. Born 75 years ago in Torrence, Mississippi, Magic Slim a.k.a. Morris Holt first came to Chicago in the mid-’50s and played bass for West Side soul man Magic Sam whom he’d known in Mississippi.
“Sam was four years older than me,” Slim told me many years ago, “and when we went to church on Sunday morning I’d go up to his house or he’d come down to my house, and we’d set up under the shade tree and play them guitars. His momma and my momma always said, ‘The devil gonna getcha all for playing guitar on Sunday.’”
Slim filled in for Hound Dog Taylor at Florence’s on the South Side in 1972 and began a long relationship with Blind Pig Records in 1990. His latest release for them is Bad Boy produced by band leader Michael Blakemore and Jerry Del Giudice released in 2012. Bad Boy is another chapter in the life of a musician that Blind Pig Records promoted as having “the meanest vibrato in blues.” His manager Marty Salzman with tongue only partly in cheek, says the guy knew 9000 songs.

Slim told me late last year that all the songs on the CD had been road tested. “Someone Else Steppin’ In” may be by Denise LaSalle and is a staple of Buddy Guy’s repertoire, but Slim claims he first heard it by Wilson Pickett. The title track is by Eddie Taylor, “that guy from the West Side.” There are three originals, “Sunrise Blues,” “Gambling Blues” and “Country Joyride.”
“When I’m sitting down like I am now, even in the hotel, I think of a couple words. I write ’em down, and then I go back and make them words rhyme. That’s how I do my songs.”
Magic Slim was industrial strength Chicago blues boogie with authentic Mississippi underpinnings. He played hard, he played mean, and his sound was so solid, right, and straight ahead, you don’t need a resume to know this guy came from the Mississippi mud.
Salzman admits they tried to get Slim to throw in some creative curve balls on some of his records. When I asked Slim himself about it, he answered with a comment that was not related to the question but puts any further questions down. “Magic Sam, we went to school together. See, I was slim and tall, and he’s the one that give me that name, and he told me to keep that name, and that name one day was gonna make me famous. So, at the time I’d kept Magic Slim, so, hey, I’ve had it ever since.”
Slim first gained attention outside of Chicago in 1989 when he toured Brazil with Buddy Guy. “It was Buddy Guy, Etta James, Jr. Wells and Albert Collins, all those and myself, all up on the show. I just had four pieces, guitar, bass and drums and myself.” When Marty Salzman walked into Slim’s dressing room for that show he told him that even though he wasn’t as famous as the others on the bill, no one in Brazil knew that. When he walked out on stage, all six foot, six inches with another six inches of cowboy hat, he got their attention, and it was Slim out of the five who got invited back several months later and for decades after that.
He’d been with Marty and Blind Pig ever since Brazil. “I can’t read and write that good, and I ain’t no dummy. I know when somebody doin’ right and when somebody ain’t doin’ right at all. Blind Pig and Marty Salzman they doin’ better than I think some other guys would do it. So, hey, man, I ain’t got no problem with ’em so I don’t see no sense of changing, booking and the record label and stuff like that. I don’t see no sense in that.”

Slim was missing his right pinky finger lost in a cotton gin accident when he was young. “There was a piece of wire in the cotton, and it was going up to the saw. I would then dry cotton. One spark would set it off. The saw went so fast. I see-ed the wire, but I tried to grab, but when I tried to grab it, it snatched my hand up in there. Lucky I didn’t lose my whole hand, but I was fast enough and quick enough to turn that wire loose.”
He said he owed Hound Dog Taylor for helping establish himself in Chicago. Hound Dog had an extra vestigial finger, and Slim laughed aloud when I suggested that perhaps Hound Dog could have loaned him that finger. “Hound Dog Taylor helped me a lot. He gave me a lot of jobs when I first got here, let me sing with him a lot and let me meet different people a lot. Hound Dog helped me a lot.”