Sunday, May 06, 2007
Magic Slim & the Teardrops at Bill's Blues Bar - 5/5/07
Magic Slim doesn't hit Chicago much these days. He moved to Lincoln, Nebraska a few years ago and is not a regular part of the Chicago scene any more. "Why on earth would anyone trade Chicago for Lincoln, Nebraska?" you may be wondering. Believe it or not, Lincoln is a terrific place. I have been to Lincoln and it is a college town (University of Nebraska) and it is home to one of the finest blues clubs in the world - the Zoo Bar. Because of the Zoo, many bluesmen from around the nation put Lincoln on their itinerary when running cross country tours (Lincoln is right off of Interstate 80, 570 miles from Chicago). Slim decided he liked the town and the club, so he shifted his base.
Magic Slim's "birth name" is Morris Holt. He is one of the last of the Delta-to-Chicago blues guys - born in 1937, moved to Chicago in 1955, came into the blues scene as a leader in 1967. When he was a young man, he was tall and slender - he was given the nickname "Magic Slim" by the legendary Magic Sam (Slim used to play bass in Magic Sam's group). Well, Magic Slim is still tall - I would estimate six foot seven inches - but he isn't slender anymore. He is a big fella - somewhere over 300 pounds, I think. This makes him an imposing presence on the bandstand. He occassionally channels Howlin' Wolf - the size, the feral noises, the whole deal. It is pretty interesting to watch.
I have the good fortune to be acquainted with Jon McDonald, one of the Teardrops. Jon plays rhythm guitar behind Slim and acts as road manager (announces the star, leads the band for a few tunes before Slim gets up to play, sells the CD's during breaks, etc.). Jon is a fabulous guitarist - he played a show with the Mystery Band last summer. He is also a very intelligent person, and deeply into the blues and all of its related musical forms. He, too, is a former Chicagoan - Jon recently headed west and now lives near Palm Springs CA. It was great to see Jon again. He seems very dedicated to Slim.
Magic Slim plays "meat and potatoes" blues - hard-grooving shuffles, blues-flavored funk and slow blues grinders. Most of his tunes are in the keys of A or E. His singing voice is powerful even though he is about 70 years old. Slim's musical range is limited, but within that range, he speaks volumes. I can't think of anyone that is doing a better job of laying down that post-WWII electric Chicago blues. He gets the crowd involved - Bill's Blues was full on Saturday and there was dancing and shouting going on. Magic Slim and the Teardrops is real and pure - a must-see for all people interested in American roots music.