I must confess that my interest in the music of blues great Magic Slim is of a fairly recent vintage.
I had heard the name, of course, for decades and possessed a passing familiarity with his biography. On more than one occasion, I uttered “Magic Sam” when I meant to say “Magic Slim” and vice versa. There’s no crime in that, what with the artists so closely linked. They came to Chicago together in 1955 and the elder Magic (Sam) enlisted the younger Magic (Slim) to play bass in his band. He also bestowed a lasting nickname on Morris Holt, who was born into a family of sharecroppers near Grenada, Miss., in the summer of 1937.
It was not until I saw Magic Slim live at the 2011 Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis that I really became a fan. He and his band, the Teardops, were performing in the festival’s blues tent as night set in along the Mississippi. Slim, who by this time was anything but, sat on a stool as he and the band ripped through a fiery set of music, that authentic, no-nonsense deep blues you simply cannot find on the West Coast.
Afterward, I ran into a Beale Street shop and picked up a 2007 CD featuring the best of his Blind Pig output. I have since collected several albums from that period in his career – “Black Tornado” (1998), “Snakebite” (2000), “Blue Magic” (2002), the live “Anything Can Happen (2005), “Midnight Blues” (2008) and “Bad Boy’ (2012). Tougher to find is the wealth of material he cut for Wolf Records; there are also some stray Alligator recordings (“Raw Magic”) out there.
My interest had just taken root when I learned Slim had died. Here is his Rolling Stone obit from February 22, 2013.
Blues guitarist Magic Slim died yesterday in a Philadelphia hospital, The Associated Press reports. He was 75, and had been dealing with worsening health problems, his manager said.
Slim, born Morris Holt in Mississippi, helped define the sound of post-war electric blues in Chicago as a younger peer of icons like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Slim’s first instrument was piano, but after he lost the little finger on his right hand in a cotton-gin accident, he switched to guitar, and also played bass with his mentor, the guitarist Magic Sam. Slim moved to Chicago in 1955, but found it so difficult to land gigs on a competitive South Side blues scene that he soon returned home.
Back in Mississippi, he developed his talent playing small gigs like plantation parties, with brothers Nick and Douglas as his backing band, the Teardrops. They returned to Chicago by the mid-‘60, this time for good, and began a recording career in 1966 with the song “Scufflin’,” the first in a series of singles that led eventually to his first album, “Born Under a Bad Sign,” in 1977.
Though he’s most closely identified with Chicago, Slim had lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, for nearly 20 years. His manager, Marty Salzman, said bleeding ulcers sent Slim to the hospital, though he also suffered from heart, lung and kidney ailments.
Slim left us two years ago this week. Don’t be surprised if that gets mentioned tonight and Friday as Slim’s son, Shawn Holt, brings the Teardrops to Biscuit and Blues in San Francisco. Here’s a bit of his story.
The high energy, hard-driving sound of The Teardrops is still alive and well and if you like what Magic Slim and The Teardrops have been doing for the last 35 years, you can continue to enjoy that unique sound and energy with Shawn Holt, a chip off the old block, fronting his dad’s band. Shawn started playing the blues at the age of 17, when he went on the road with this father and Slim’s brother, Uncle Nick Holt and The Teardrops. Shortly after that tour with his father, Shawn realized his genetic destiny (all the Holt’s are talented musicians) and formed his own band. He has been watching, learning and playing blues ever since. The Teardrops consist of Levi William (guitar), Vern Taylor (drums) and Christopher Biedron (bass).
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