BluesWax Sittin’ In With
The Bad Boy Healing the Summer Blues
By Kyle Palarino
This summer I went to see Buddy Guy talk about his new autobiography and to listen to his stories. Then I spent the past few weeks reading through it and spending time with the older generation of the Chicago blues legends that the book focuses on. Then, while my mind was still in the Checkerboard Lounge, I got an email about Magic Slim putting out a new album! My face lit up like a freshly cut Christmas tree. I knew what I had to do, and it was to head on down to the jungles of New York City and sit with Slim. Man, life is hard!
On August 7 he celebrated his 75th birthday and is touring as always. Slim is one of the older generation that you could really get up close to and still see in a small club. He grew up in Mississippi before moving to Chicago during the great migration in the 1950s and played music with all of ‘em. Slim has a style of his own that is rooted in the Windy City and no matter what song he tackles his fingers blow out his own notes, no one else’s.
This man has put out music throughout his career on a steady basis even through the rough times that the blues had. He started recording in the late 1970s disco era and every few years you could count on Slim to put out something new. That wasn’t an easy task in those adolescent years of music with disco and new wave taking the popular charts by storm. But between Alligator, Wolf, Delmark, Storyville and his current home at Blind Pig Slim’s been through all of the animalistic record labels and one red light to keep him recording and on that gravel road.
Bad Boy is Magic Slim’s latest album, and it has the same wizardry as his previous albums. Some of the songs are aged in a cask while others spend the day in the crock pot and just heat on up! The songs are written by a who’s who of blues, from Denise LaSalle, Roy Brown, Muddy, J.B. Lenoir, Lil Ed Williams, Eddie Taylor, and Albert King. Along with three original compositions, you won’t be disappointed while getting your blues groove on. Magic pulls his wand out and puts you in his spell and on the dance floor until the last note of “Country Joyride.” Don’t forget the seatbelt.
He is currently working in a film titled We Be Kings, but I couldn’t get any more info out of the man. Be on the lookout for that project in the near future. From New York City he was in the van to a festival in Maryland and not looking to retire anytime soon. Slim is keeping busy. No matter the size of the stage or who might be on the stage with him, Slim will take his axe, chop ‘em all down with his sharp notes. It’s not 1950’s Chi-Town, but 2012 in your town; check it out.
Magic Slim is a tall man who stands high as the club’s ceiling and has to duck under the fans. He sits on a stool on the stage just to be seen by the crowd as they juke and jive on the dance floor. He doesn’t come up with a set list, he reads the crowd like a book and plays to the crowd. The talents that this superhuman has absorbed cannot be understood until you go into a club and feel the fury of Magic Slim’s blues.
Kyle Palarino for BluesWax: First off, I want to say “Happy Birthday!”
Magic Slim: Thank you!
BW: Number 75, how’s that feel?
MS: I feel good. Just one thing, just some arthritis in my knee, but it’s alright.
BW: I got arthritis in my shoulder and I’m 40 years younger than you. How’s the road treatin’ you?
MS: So far so good.
BW: I’m glad to hear that. If you don’t mind I’d like to go into your past a little bit. I just got through reading Buddy Guy’s autobiography and I’ve been listening to your music for years, but I’d like to go into your past. So why did your family originally leave the south and head to Chicago?
MS: Well, we got tired of sharecroppin’!
BW: Same as everybody else.
MS: My sister went to Chicago first, and then I went and then I got my brothers up. See I was already playin’ a little then, but I got my brothers up and we started our own little thing goin’.
BW: So it wasn’t the whole family [moving], it was one at a time?
BW: Did you know anyone in Chicago when you went up?
MS: I had some peoples there, but my sister was there first and I stayed with her.
BW: And what year was that?
BW: How did you get started playing in Chicago?
MS: When I first got there I wanted to play, I was tryin’ to play, but they wouldn’t let me set in. A lot like Otis Rush and all of ‘em wouldn’t let me set in, ya know? But me and Otis, we come to be good friends and we did shows together a little bit down the road. And I kept on. I didn’t stop. ‘Cause I didn’t give a damn, I wouldn’t stop.
BW: Would you say it was a competitive city when you got up there?
MS: What you mean by competitive?
BW: To get into places to play.
MS: Well, it was. Cause if you wasn’t 21 you couldn’t go in. Now when I first got there I stood on the outside and look in the window. I seen Muddy Waters, the Aces, Howlin’ Wolf, but I couldn’t go in and see ‘em until I got me a false identification card. At that time they didn’t have no picture on them. I went down to a place where they call “Jew Town.” And I got me a false ID so I could go in. And then after that, case closed!
BW: Really! Now you played with Magic Sam in his band?
MS: Well, no. No. Me and Magic Sam went to school together in Mississippi. See Magic Sam was up here in Chicago before me. When I was in Chicago I ran up on him. I wasn’t really playin’ guitar, I was playin’ bass. I used to go around with him, he called me up and I play bass. Well, I could play guitar anyway. Then after I got my bass down I started playin’ guitar.
BW: Who did you start playin’ with in Chicago?
MS: The first guy I started playin’ with, his name is Robert Perkins. His name is Mr. Pitiful. I was playin’ with him; he was the bass player, I was the guitar man. After he quit his band was called Mr. Pitiful and the Teardrops. After he quit playin’ and I kept playin’ he said you keep that name Magic Slim and the Teardrops. And I’ve had it ever since.
BW: Now a segue into this, your band. You’ve kept the members together a long time.
MS: I try to, yeah.
BW: I mean there have been changes through the years which there always will be, but as a leader how do you lead a band and keep it together for so long?
MS: I don’t play with ‘em. I don’t bull. I tell ‘em what I want. I don’t allow no drinkin’ on the bandstand. Let’s play, drink when you come down. Let’s get up there and do what we got to do and go. And so far I ain’t had no problems.
BW: Did you learn that from anybody or is that something you learned on your own?
MS: Magic Sam told me when I was playin’ the guitar don’t try to play like me, learn somethin’ on your own. The meanin’, learn somethin’ on your own I had to learn how to take care of my fellas. So I learned all that.
BW: Another thing going through Buddy’s book and his career and how he had trouble signing with record labels. You as a musician have always stayed with a record label pretty much throughout your career. How have you been able to keep that interest going in you music?
MS: Now this is the way I feel. I know that the record labels…
BW: They count the money.
MS: Yeah. I know they not gonna give you all of what you supposed to have. I know that too. But if they do me half way right I will hang if you hang with me. So therefore I haven’t had no problem with no record label.
BW: And all the records you’ve put out have been more than respectful.
MS: Well yeah, and I got records out in Europe, everywhere.
BW: Everywhere. They have been consistently coming out through all the years. There’s never been a long period when you never put one out. Also, on records, you’ve worked with a lot of producers.
BW: Are there any you really like working with as opposed to other ones?
MS: See I don’t put my hand on no pencil cause I can’t read and write not that good, ya know. Now Blind Pig, I hang with him because he shown me he’s a pretty straight guy.
BW: As far as the song selection goes, do you pick the songs on the album, does your band have a say in it, does your producer?
MS: Don’t nobody have a say in that but me. I pick the band, then I go to [producer] Jerry [Del Giudice] and I ask him how do he like it. That’s how I do it.
BW: Also, the song selection on the new album, well on all of ‘em honestly, you do a lot of older songs which I love hearin’ you do.
MS: Well, I’ll do any of ‘em.
BW: There’s no rhyme or reason, it’s just songs you like you do, which is what I love cause it’s you doin’ ‘em, it’s your style. Do you feel that it’s your duty to keep the blues alive to keep those songs goin’?
MS: Yeah. Yeah. I feel like there ain’t but a few of us left all the rest of ‘em gone on. The people have asked me “When am I gonna retire?” I tell ‘em all when the good Lord takes me then I’ll be retired.
BW: Fair enough. I tell you what, I’m happy to be here with ya and that you are doin’ what you are doin’.
BW: Two more and that’s it. You’re gonna be in a movie.
MS: Well, yeah, we done started it.
BW: Can ya tell me about it?
MS: No, no, no. I don’t know nothin’ bout it yet.
BW: Ok, nothin’ at all?
MS: No, all I know we started it and we supposed to finish it, but I don’t know when.
BW: Ok, I’ll look forward to seein’ it then.
BW: Your career, you’ve played with everybody and anybody.
BW: I’m not gonna ask ya to name names, but I will ask you this, if there is anybody that you can take the stage with who would you like to play with?
MS: Well, hell, I done played with everybody!?
BW: So that’s why I’m askin’ you, who would you like to take the stage with? Or who would you like to take the stage with again that’s gone?
MS: Okay, I tell you what, hey man, I don’t know cause I take the stage with any of ‘em. I play with any of ‘em.
BW: Was there anybody you took the stage with that was different than you expected? That you thought would be a different performer than they were?
MS: Right now I can’t tell ya. I have taken the stage with a lot of guys that can’t play what I thought they could play.
BW: I won’t ask you to name them.
MS: I don’t know no way.
BW: That’s all I got for ya, man.
MS: Alright, well thanks a lot, man.
BW: I appreciate the time, and I appreciate all the time you put into music. You go out there and I’m gonna enjoy it.
MS: Alright. I’ll enjoy it too!
Kyle Palarino is a contributing editor at BluesWax.
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