Friday, February 22, 2013

Magic Blues

This week's post was going to be a completely different subject, but we will have to postpone it for a week or two.  Most blues fans will understand, I hope.

As I've mentioned here before, my journey toward becoming a blues fan really started from my love for rock and roll and soul music.  However, I needed something else, maybe a combination of the two with the electric rock guitar work of artists like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and the gritty soul vocals of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.  That's what I found with the blues.  It was that simple at the beginning.

Starting with the music of B.B. King, Robert Cray, Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, I kept digging deeper, discovering the Chess sounds of Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Howlin' Wolf, then the urban blues of the late 50's/early 60's with Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, James Cotton, and Otis Rush.  From there I moved back and discovered the pre-war blues from Robert Johnson (who I had heard earlier, but didn't fully appreciate until I had actually absorbed the blues that followed him and was influenced by him), Son House, Skip James, and Bukka White.  

Later on, I filled gaps, taking in the assorted jump blues and R&B-based blues that were popular in the 40's and early 50's, then I delved deeper into regional blues sounds in Texas, California, Mississippi, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region, Chicago, Detroit, East Coast, etc....  The blues may be simple music, but a lot of people play it a lot of different ways and I love every bit of it.

I say all this to say that of all the blues music I've heard over the past 25+ years, all the various styles and genres and sub-genres of music that I've experienced, whether blues, rock, jazz, soul or whatever, there have been very few artists who have moved me the way Magic Slim did when he played the blues.  

Magic Slim passed away on Thursday morning (February 21).  He had been on life support, fighting a desperate battle with various ailments concerning ulcers, his lungs, and his heart that have built up over his 75 years of living.  The rumor that he had passed began circulating on Wednesday night and spread like wildfire to the point where it was posted just before 10:00 pm, Chicago time, that the big man was on life support, but it was obvious from the briefness of the statement that he faced an uphill climb.

Since I've followed the blues as a fan, there have been a lot of deaths that hit hard.  Stevie Ray Vaughan's death was really tough because it was so sudden and tragic after he had seemingly regained control of his life.  Luther Allison's death was also tough, in part due to the sudden diagnosis of inoperable cancer, which hit his fans like a 2 x 4, especially those who had seen him play one of his marathon shows just days or weeks before.  Within a month, he was gone.  

There were other deaths that were tough to take, like Junior Wells, Michael Burks, Johnny Copeland, and Albert Collins.  When Collins died, we didn't have the internet to give us instant news, so a lot of his fans (me included) didn't realize he was sick until they saw the obituary in the newspaper.  As we've discussed on this blog before, death is a regular part of the blues fan's existence because so many of the artists are past middle age and many played just as long as they were able to, like Honeyboy Edwards, Pinetop Perkins, and B.B. King (who, despite his age, continues to amaze....I honestly cannot imagine the blues world without B.B. King in it.  When (if?) that day ever comes, it will be a most sad day indeed).

Slim's death is really hard to take because he has been such a constant for so many years.  I mean, he was putting out new CDs almost yearly, either on Blind Pig or Wolf Records.  He toured constantly and when he performed, it was always memorable.  Even though you pretty much knew what you were getting when you heard him, he still managed to surprise you somehow.  

As I wrote last year, since I first heard Magic Slim back in the late 80's and early 90's, he's been my favorite.  Sure, I have others that I like almost as much, but Slim is the one I always return to when I need a dose of the real, unleaded, downhome, greasy, gritty blues.  That raw and ragged guitar work, that driving, nonstop, always-dependable boogie rhythm, those gravelly vocals, and that million dollar smile are just the epitome of blues to me.  If I had to provide someone with an ultimate definition of the blues, I would point to Magic Slim.

Since Wednesday night, I've been reading the many tributes posted on Facebook at his page and on other people's pages.  There are lots of great stories and some really nice tributes from longtime fans and friends and I'm sure there will be many more to come.  The blues world really comes together during times of grief and its almost therapeutic for fans to read these comments and reminiscences.   

I do know that I will be playing a lot of Slim's music this I need an excuse....I usually listen to one or two of his CD's each week anyway and spent most of December listening to the Zoo Bar series and his latest Blind Pig release.  If you're not familiar with Magic Slim, you can start anywhere and move backward or forward.  There are 30 or so albums of his music available in one format or another, plus a few DVD's.  It's all good and all blues all the time.

We don't usually get a lot of comments here, but if you would like to share your thoughts, or tell a Magic Slim story, you are always welcome to do so in the Comments below.

I'm almost positive that there's a big reunion going on up in Blues Heaven and the Magic Man is jamming away with his brother, longtime bassist Nick Holt, and his rhythm guitarist from the late 70's/early 80's, Coleman "Alabama Jr." ("Daddy Rabbit") Pettis, and the clouds are rocking.  R.I.P. Magic Slim.  It was quite a ride.

1 comment:

The Subliminal Kid said...

Gosh, I was so surprised and sad to read last night that Magic Slim had passed away. I heard him live any number of times when I lived in Chicago in the 80s, and then one very cold January c1991 I was in Lincoln on business so dropped by the Zoo Bar for a couple of sets . . . just unbelievably fantastic! Certainly warmed up a minus-zero night. Hard to believe he's gone.