By Rev. Billy C. Wirtz
Each week Rev. Billy C. Wirtz tells us about artists, albums, and music that we need to know about.
“Nothing I do is original, I took everything [his emphasis] from a man named Guitar Slim.”
- Buddy Guy interviewed by Tavis Smiley on PBS.
As the years pound out their relentless four hundred meter relay on my body, I wind down about the same time I used to head out for the evening. However, the life of a middle-aged piano player is not completely dull. Lately, there’s been some excitement.
Thanks to the new “smart” phone, a digital cricket chirps to informs me that at 2 a.m it’s time to play “Who the f—k is texting me, and why?”
Last Thursday night, after inhaling a fourth meal of low-fat Hot Pockets, Romaine salad with Italian Lite dressing, and aspartame-laced Fruit Punch, I fired up the last Fuente Robusto and settled into my Goodwill couch. Dropping the bionic “Here is pointer” finger on the remote, I was just in time for Family Guy.
It was the episode where Brian the Dog leaves home. I’d seen it at least six times, so I began channel surfing. I’m getting to the story, relax.
As I crossed PBS, Tavis Smiley was interviewing a soft-spoken, older musician. It took me a moment to recognize Buddy Guy.
Smiley tossed him a softball:
“You’ve influenced so many other guitarists, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ra…
Buddy politely cut him off with a wave of the hand stating:
“Nothing I do is original, I took everything [his emphasis] from a man named Guitar Slim.”
They flashed a picture of Slim on the screen.
How cool, how totally cool!
As Buddy told more stories, it occurred to me that it’s time to pay some long-overdue respect…
This may be one of the easiest articles I’ve been assigned to write.
Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones
For the third straight column we have an artist who recorded for Art Rupe and Specialty Records. Although he did some later recordings for Atco, the Specialty album Sufferin’ Mind will serve as the frog for this week’s biology lab.
In 1954. Percy Mayfield (see last week’s column) was still pushing the lyrical envelope and a Louis Jordan clone from Macon, Georgia, was demanding an audition from Specialty Records (more on him next week).
Meanwhile, Art Rupe was watching Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used To Do” spend three months and two weeks at number one on the charts.
Rupe had the Midas touch for spotting and recording unique artists. Much like “Please Send Me Someone To Love,” Slim’s ode to changing one’s ways has been re-recorded a few hundred times, however, the two songs and artists couldn’t be any more different.
As noted by Bob Porter in the Comment section of last week’s column [Editor's Note: You might check back on some of Billy's columns as the discussions can get very interesting], early in his career Mayfield was in terrible car crash early that left him badly scarred inside and out. For most of his life he self-medicated his depression with the usual substances, his laconic and introspective style no doubt influenced by real-life disappointments..
Meanwhile, down in Louisiana.
See The Gal All Dressed In Red
Buddy Guy described the effect seeing Guitar Slim had on his life:
“I said, ‘Man, oh man, that’s what I want to do.”
Actually, he said he’d heard but didn’t actually see Slim till Mr. Jones strolled into the club with his guitar connected to a hundred-foot cord.
Also, as has been noted in numerous accounts, Guitar Slim dug on the color red.
Every night, he’d come roaring up in his red Cadillac accompanied by three red-dressed “lady friends.”
Playing the red guitar.
A red sharkskin suit
Red razor-toed ‘gators and
A gleaming, dyed-red conk (an African-American hairstyle popular in the 1950s) stacked eight inches vertical.
He would play his way to the stage until, swinging the neck down, the band would CUT. Slim worries the last note, welcoming everyone, holding that last long note foreverrrr, but suddenly “Ummmmm,hmmmmm” he’s moaning his way into “The Story of My Life.” A Pied Piper leading a hundred-odd patrons to a place not found on maps.
For the next sixty minutes, he’ll play behind his back, then drop into a split and grind on it like it’s Big Lucy from Minde., now he’s biting out notes with gold-capped teeth, and finally, for the show stopper, climbs up to the rafters, as the band vamps “After Hours.” A barmaid screams and a cloud of dust/ dried bird shit shakes loose from up above to reveal Slim hanging upside down from a wobbly cross beam, the red suit soaked thru and raining sweat on the dance floor below, Slim sixty-nine tonguing that Gibson and crying “Oh Yeah.”
Everyone agrees he was THE man. Old-timers swear that even Jimi Hendrix was a tamer version of Eddie Jones.
The stories of his antics, both on and off stage, abound; one of the more famous involves a recording session.
It seems that Slim had brought a number of friends to session, most of them female, most of them, thanks to his latest advance from Rupe, well compensated.
Along with heart-stopping vocals, Slim’s guitar had a distorted, guttural sound that along with bee-sting high notes, frequently produced moisture.
Hard to describe, but a McCullough chainsaw tuned to an open “D” chord gets close. The way he got that sound was simple, he jacked the volume up to “10″, and left it there. This session was being held before the days of compressors (ask your musician friend) and the first barrage of notes in his solo fried the studio board.
The engineers were less than pleased.
A disappointed Slim, still strumming his guitar, walked around the room singing an impromptu apology to each one of the ladies. Then, (still playing), he waved a final goodbye, strolled out the door, and disappeared into the Louisiana night.
Unfortunately, Guitar Slim lived life as he played the guitar, with the volume set on “ten.
It all caught up to him, in 1959, at the tender age of thirty-two, he checked into the all-night jam session.
Break out the Visa card.
This is one great album
Before I jump into the highlights, once again, I implore you to invest in the best set of headphones or earbuds possible, you need to be able to hear the layers. The layers are what’s going on underneath the singer or lead instrument.
When you find a track you like, I suggest you listen to it several times. Each time, concentrate on a different instrument or part. These songs were recorded live, and a good set of “cans” will make you feel like you’re standing in the middle of the musicians. You’ll hear verbal asides, beautiful harmony parts from the horns and keyboards, and and occasional profanity or mistake. The CD version of this album does have studio chatter at the beginning of several tracks. Some folks find that annoying; personally, I think it gives a real cool (reverb, please) “You Are There” vibe to the song.
(Pay special attention to the horn arrangements, many of them were written by a young blind pianist fresh from St. Augustine, Florida. His real last name was Robinson, but he would soon drop it in favor of his middle name, Charles).
This is some of the coolest, most soulful music you’ll ever hear, turn it up and enjoy.
Here’s are a few stand-out tracks:
The Things I Used To Do” – Listen to that ragged, straight-out-of-church voice. The song sounds like “Leave You In The Hands Of The Lord” by Archie Brownlee transposed to a major key (ask your ..). The horns are playing a line based on a Fats Domino/Professor Longhair left-hand figure. It’s what my editor calls “The New Orleans Stroll.”
“The Story Of My Life” – Remember when we talked about “the moan” as being that place where gospel singers run out of words and just start to moan (see previous columns on gospel music). Your first “throw something at the wall” moment comes at 1:45 when he just rips into the solo and when he stings that high “C” it sounds like he just stepped on a fire ant nest. Sweet Jesus.
“Twenty-Five Lies” – A little comic relief. Oh, how I wish I could have heard the live version of this at a juke joint in Louisiana at around two in the morning. The band kicks it into overdrive with a sax solo bordering on hysteria. Count Basie on Ritalin.
“Sufferin’ Mind” – This time we get the call and response. Listen to the sax and guitar go at it. Way cool? Told ya.
“Guitar Slim” – Killer boogie walk-in figure. Slim’s musical dating profile. Apparently he’s not much for long walks on the beach or cuddling. He prefers: “A pocket full of money, and my whiskey, gin, and wine.”
Of course there’s another fifth-gear “I ain’t got long to stay here” guitar solo.
(Now I know where Bob Margolin gets that little figure he plays at the end of songs all the time.)
These are just a few examples. There’s also great packaging and liner notes with more biographical info. Grab it quick before it goes out of print.
You do get the feeling that Slim knew his days were numbered, he plays the pedal-to-the-metal, take-no-prisoners, dig-it-if you-dare Jackson, wide open, ass-end out of every single song.
The results are every bit as important historically and musically as Percy Mayfield.
Remember, this is the music that changed the worlds of Elvis and Jerry Lee and later Keith Richards and Eric Clapton.
A big tip of the porkpie hat to Buddy Guy for his candor and honesty, not only in mentioning Slim but later in the interview seizing the moment to further champion Son House and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
A class act all the way.
By the way, the reason for the interview: Buddy has recently completed a second autobiography.
I’ll try to review it in the near future.
Even though Percy and Slim were label mates, the styles are vastly different.
Go with Percy Mayfield when you’re in the mood for smooth-as-silk musical gems you listen to with undivided attention.
Then push back the rug and prepare for three-chord brain surgery.
Speaking of nominations:
If asked to nominate a patron saint of twelve-bar throw-downs encouraging folks to engage a variety of acts beginning with the letter “F,” would I suggest Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones?
Oh, Hell Yes!
Rev. Billy C. Wirtz is a weekly columnist at BluesWax. Each week he finds artists, albums, and music that you should know about. He also plays piano. His radio show, Rev. Billy’s Rhythm Revival, is available in podcast. To hear the latest, go to Rev. Billy C. Wirtz’ page on Facebook and look for the link.
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