Guitar Slim

TrackSingle / Album
The Things I Used To DoSpecialty SP-482
Well I Done Got Over ItSpecialty SP-482
The Story Of My LifeSpecialty SP-490
A Letter To My Girl FriendSpecialty SP-490
Bad Luck BluesThe Things I Used To Do
You Give Me Nothin' But The BluesSpecialty SP-569
Sum'thin' To Remember You BySpecialty SP-569
Down Through The YearsAtco 6072
If I Should Lose YouAtco 6097
If I Had My Life To Live OverAtco 6120

Guitar Slim photo 1

 

Guitar Slim poster

 

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Guitar Slim playlist

 

DAVE STEPHENS’ NEW ORLEANS SCENES

#19 GUITAR SLIM

 

Contributors: Dave Stephens … with assistance from Cal Taylor

“Slim come out with his hair dyed blue, blue suit, blue pair of shoes. He had 350 feet of mike wire connected to his guitar and a valet carrying him on his shoulders all through the crowd and out into the parking lot. Man, he was stopping cars, driving down the highway. No one could outperform Guitar Slim. He was the performinest man I’ve ever seen.” (Earl King quoted by Jeff Hannusch in his liner notes to the Ace UK album, ‘The Things I Used To Do’)

“Johnny Guitar Watson was an extremely evil-sounding guitar player at the time, but the smuttiest one I heard was Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones) … just pure smut.” (Frank Zappa in an interview entitled “Frank Zappa: Guitar Player” written by Bill Milkowski which appeared in Down Beat in February, 1983)

“Although he had only a few years in the spotlight, Eddie Lee “Guitar Slim” Jones set a lofty and influential standard for the pantheon of blues guitarists who would follow him.” (Roger Hahn writing on Guitar Slim in 64 Parishes)

“On February 7, 1959, Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones died of complications from pneumonia in New York City. While he was on an East Coast tour of one-nighters, his breathing had become increasingly difficult. …. The band drove in to New York City and got him a doctor in Harlem. They drove around the corner, checked into the Cecil Hotel, and Slim checked out on the doctor’s table before they could return to retrieve him and get him to the hospital. He was 32 years old. Back home in Louisiana, Mardi Gras was in full swing. His death was barely noticed due to another tragedy earlier that week, when Buddy Holly’s plane went down in a cold Iowa night. We all know that story.” (Ted Barron writing in the Perfect Sound Forever article on Slim)

“Some say he was laid to rest with his favorite guitar, a Les Paul Goldtop.” (The Find a Grave website on Guitar Slim)

Without counting I’d guess that the majority of essays I’ve written under the Topper banner start with a paragraph or two on one record by the artist(s) concerned. And for those artists who fit in the category ‘One Hit Wonder’ it’s almost inevitable that that artist’s pride and joy should get immediate mention and there have been several of those. Guitar Slim is one such. However, he doesn’t typify a one hit wonder artist so I decided that some words from writers other than myself on the subject of Slim wouldn’t go amiss as an introduction. What is particularly unusual about Slim is that he was a blues artist and how many blues artists manage to get themselves into the Top 40 National Chart for the US or UK (the criterion for a Toppermost One Hit Wonder)? For example, a big name like Howlin’ Wolf never did it (Smokestack Lightning got to #42 in the UK Chart in 1964 and that was it), but B.B. King did (Rock Me Baby got to #34 in the US in 1964 and then The Thrill Is Gone hit #15 in the US in 1970 which opened the door for a few more).

That record was The Things I Used To Do. It made #23 in the Hot 100 and #1 in the R&B Chart in 1954. Billboard called it “one of the three top R&B records of the entire ‘50s decade” according to the Mississippi Blues Trail write-up on Slim.

What was it about this record that made the US record buyer sit up and take notice? Above everything else it was the raw and yes, loud aspects of the production which had never been heard before by the white public and probably the majority of its black equivalent. And that rawness spread right through the record from the anguished vocal which most journalists refer to as churchy, through the riffing band which immediately identified the source as New Orleans, to Slim’s guitar work which reinforced the emotion of his vocal outpouring via short staccato bursts responding to the phrases but also adding an extra element wherein you could visualise those hands moving up the fretboard as the randomness of the arpeggios coalesced into climbing musical lines which I’ve seen described as majestic (with which view I’d strongly concur).

The 64 Parishes article on Slim stresses the pioneer aspects of his guitar work – see quote below:

“Most fundamentally, Guitar Slim championed the electric guitar as a lead ensemble instrument in the emerging genre of R&B long before any other musician. “Early- and mid-1950s R&B audiences were still accustomed to bands that featured honking saxophones as their primary solo voice fronted by blues singers who kept their guitar work subordinate to the impact of the vocals,” explained historian Robert Palmer, a former popular music critic for the New York Times. “Guitar Slim reversed those priorities.””

That wasn’t all. While Slim himself had evidently drawn from many of his contemporaries – he was prone to dropping the name of Gatemouth Brown as a comparator but would also have listened to the people like T-Bone Walker, Pee Wee Crayton and B.B. King – he differentiated himself via his use of melodic components within solos and fills in addition to the more common off-the-cuff extemporisation. He would also break from a fill at what seemed like a random point rather than playing it through to its resolution inducing disorientation in the listener’s head.

There was another differentiator. Not many other guitarists at that time would have been in the habit of, if at all possible, plugging in to the public address system in a venue and turning the volume control up to eleven with the result of introducing distortion deliberately rather than accidentally.

Slim aimed for a unique sound on “Things” and others. He got it.

His first record, attributed to Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones And His Playboys, recorded in May 1951, released July 1951 on Imperial Records, was certainly functional but gave little sign of what was to come other than announcing on the A-side, Bad Luck Is On Me that his focus was going to be on the slow pleading type of material. However, the more dance-oriented buyer was catered for on the flip, New Arrival, where that buyer first encountered Eddie’s ego via the opening couplet: “I’m a new arrival and they call me Guitar Slim”. From the same session, another Imperial disc followed: Standin’ At The Station / Cryin’ In The Morning, but garnered little public reaction.

Single #3 after a gap of a year plus was released on Jim Bulleit’s label J-B Records, based in Nashville. Once again, the A-side, Feelin’ Sad, was a slowie with its opening consisting of low-key moaning setting the mood prior to the verse. The words when they come are delivered in tones of sotto voce agony (if that’s not too much of an oxymoron): “I’ll tell the story / Just once again / The way I love you / Darling it’s a sin”. It’s only the somewhat ponderous brass arrangement and the lack of Eddie’s guitar – it’s effectively replaced by piano here – that prevented this one from being a selection.

A certain gent called Ray Charles took note of the record. In his second year at Atlantic, he was still searching for a more distinctive style having shrugged off the cool approach of the likes of Nat Cole and Charles Brown which dominated his pre-Atlantic recordings. His own version of Feelin’ Sad which was released in September 1953 – it had been cut just before his 23rd birthday – stuck closely to the Slim original with more expressive vocal (for Charles that is, compared with earlier material) but eerily added a Slim styled guitar positioned well back in the mix, perhaps as acknowledgement of the source. Coming immediately after his Atlantic breakthrough with Mess Around but several releases before the R&B chart topper, I’ve Got A Woman, it didn’t sell many copies at the time but was a significant step along the route to star time for Brother Ray via a form of music that owed a lot to both gospel and blues and which we’d soon label as soul.

Quite what transpired that resulted in Ray being present as both pianist and arranger for Slim’s first session for Specialty didn’t seem to be documented in the vast bulk of writing on the subject and on Charles himself (and I include in that, the Toppermost that Cal Taylor and I generated on Ray within which Cal covered the salient points including the Feelin’ Sad release from Ray). However, I eventually discovered a writer who might – and I emphasise, it’s only “might” – have got to the bottom of what went on. See footnotes #2 and #3. And then, #4 in which another writer complemented that discovery.

For a variety of reasons – including a build-up of new songs by Slim, a looseness of control by producer Johnny Vincent allowing the musicians, particularly Slim to turn up the volume on their amps, and the presence of Ray Charles – that first Specialty session, the one that produced “Things”, was special for the quality of the tracks that emerged from it. Indeed, all the new songs penned by Slim, stand high within his oeuvre.

A few bars from a rather plodding drummer suggest that the flip to “Things”, Well I Done Got Over It, might be a rather ponderous affair but any such thoughts disappear instantly with the entry of the horns and some frisky riffing which is one part New Orleans, one part Ray Charles and goes on to dominate the record. The song is a rare (relatively) happy affair from Slim; all he’d wanted was some good woman to keep him satisfied but every time he turned his back she was out with some other man, however he’d done got over it, at last, with the ultimate two words expressing the hurt that lay beneath the song’s title:

Specialty disc #2, The Story Of My Life c/w A Letter To My Girl Friend, from Slim kept up the slow blues on the A-side with a jumper on the flip approach. From its title you would probably have guessed that the A-side was unlikely to have been the happiest of ditties but it well and truly exceeded those expectations. The moaning intro as previously heard in Feelin’ Sad gave you an idea of what you were in for. In verse 3 following the agony-packed break (see below) he tells us that he’d “rather be lying dead, sleeping way down in my grave” than have to live with “misery every day”. His guitar work might be the very best he ever put on record. When Frank Zappa was asked “Are there any guitar players you listen to?” in Guitar Player magazine in January 1977 conducted by Steve Rosen and reproduced in Zappa Wiki Jawaka he responded with mentions of Brian May, Wes Montgomery and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and then closed with:

“And I especially like Guitar Slim. His solo on “The Story Of My Life” (The Things That I Used To Do, Specialty) is one of the best early distorted guitar solos; it really sounds like he’s mad at somebody.”

The flip , A Letter To My Girl Friend, kicked off with a spoken, unaccompanied intro from Slim:

“Once I was a prisoner of war, and this is one of the letters that I wrote home to my girlfriend. Just a little serenade from the boys, and I’m gonna read it to you.”

… and “the boys” aka effectively the earliest incarnation of the Ray Charles Orchestra, come in right on cue with more of those bright and breezy riffs signalling a medium tempo jumper which could well come as a surprise to the listener who might have been expecting a tear-soaked slowie, a more typical form of correspondence between someone stuck in foreign climes and his loved one, or typical in popular music anyway. But once again that backing makes it abundantly clear that Charles had been marinading himself in the music of the Crescent City.

There were two other tracks cut at the first Specialty session but they didn’t see single release, appearing eventually via the CD format. One of the pair was a makeover of Certainly All which didn’t add a lot to a track which had appeared on the flipside of Feelin’ Sad and which was so interesting I didn’t even mention it earlier! It’s one of those dance-floor targeted tracks which has the guys in the band echoing the words of the lead singer, a common device in jump blues but one that hasn’t worn that well.

For me the other track has more appeal. It was a remake of St. Louis Jimmy’s Goin’ Down Slow from 1941, a song that some readers might know better from the Howlin’ Wolf version which came twenty years or so later. With instrumentation trimmed back to what sounds like guitar, piano (hammered triplets), and drums only, the Slim take is raw which feeling is made even more uncomfortable by the suspicion of a slight difference in key between Slim and the pianist, though it has to be said that the treatment fits the lyrics. It’s a song that’s appeared in a number of guises over the years and there’s discussion on the subject in the footnotes.

On the principle of “don’t change a winning formula”, Art Rupe, founder of Specialty, stuck to largely the same team for Slim’s second session for the label in April 1954, with Lloyd Lambert’s band providing the backing and Johnny Vincent in the production booth. The implied change in that “largely” though, might have been significant; Ray Charles wasn’t there and wouldn’t be in the future.

Also predictably, a “Things” clone was cut – Trouble Don’t Last – and predictably again, it was given the nod as Slim’s next release. It didn’t chart; nor did any of his singles post “Things”. Which was a shame for two reasons: the totally different but absolutely coruscating axe solo and the fact that the lyrics actually embraced a hint of optimism for a change – witness the expanded title line: “I’m so glad that trouble don’t last always”.

Another slow blues was cut at the session which for a change (and pleasingly) wasn’t built on the usual lazy boogie line. Bad Luck Blues, which didn’t see release at the time, had the same notes as usual but arranged in a different order and, if anything, were even lazier than their equivalent on “Things” and “Trouble”. Lyrically, it was back to the misery kick but with a hint of a possible happy ending in the final couplet:

Whoah, what would I do baby, if my wife would come back to me
(repeat)

Well you try me once more baby, I’ll be the best guy you ever need

And he evidently loved the dropping note slashed intro since it would appear again (see later).

A couple of upbeat tracks were cut too and one deserves mention: Later for You Baby was a fairly innocuous item but it did have something of an infectious quality about it caused by the phrasing of the minimalist melody line on what was basically a 12 bar blues. One writer has suggested that the number could have been the inspiration for Bobby Charles’ See You Later Alligator a year or so later but, while I can see his point, I think that might be pushing it (but Cal begs to differ).

Disappointed that subsequent sales weren’t following producer Vincent’s results with “Things”, or at least that’s what one might assume from his actions, Art Rupe took over in the booth for the next two sessions. Most articles on Slim report that Art had negative feelings about the results of Johnny’s first session though such feelings must have changed somewhat after “Things” started climbing the charts. Maybe something remained in his mind because a major difference between the Rupe sessions and what came before was Slim’s Les Paul Gold Top appearing extremely low in the mix. Hence a significant plus point of the earlier records was effectively negated.

And it did make a real difference. Arguably the best of the, as usual, self-penned songs was the blues ballad Sufferin’ Mind but it was a shadow of what it could have been. The guitar was there, yes, but minus distort and in the dim distance; it was even quieter than a conventional backing guitar. Art might have seen this as tasteful but whose taste were we talking about?

Come 12th December 1955 and what would turn out to be Slim’s final Specialty session, the producer’s baton was handed over again, this time to Robert “Bumps” Blackwell fresh from having cut Little Richard’s debut Specialty record and smash hit, Tutti Frutti (in September that year). Whether some of the spirit of the Penniman session was still with Bumps or whether this was just the way he did things, the tracks that emerged on this occasion were much more like the Johnny Vincent produced output.

I’ve gone for the two tracks from this session which were selected as the ones that comprised his only single from it: You Give Me Nothin’ But The Blues, and, Sum’thin’ To Remember You By (and that’s how the flip title was spelled though not always on CDs that followed).

The A-side featured Slim leading the brass in a spiky, deliberately ugly riff which dominated the performance – this was music that hadn’t been heard before in New Orleans. There were explosions during the tenor sax break and screeches from Slim’s Gold Top to follow. Easy listening this was not but you couldn’t ignore it:

“You’re packed-up and ready to leave me / And Lord knows I’m about to die”: The words hurled out at you after a great CLAAANNNNG to announce himself (one he’d saved from a track that hadn’t seen release – see earlier). It’s another reworking of “Things” as if he couldn’t leave it alone. I own a cheapo Slim album from many, many years ago and at the time I bought it I didn’t know much about the man but this was the track that had the most impact on me. It could have been Slim reinventing those tropes or the presence of Blackwell as producer, or something else completely. AGONY (a word we’ve heard a few times before). Slim digging a hole he’d never get out of.

Art let Slim go after the all-too-familiar lack of success followed the Blackwell session. Atlantic didn’t take long to pounce. They thought they’d signed Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones back in ’53 until Art and/or Johnny Vincent pulled the carpet from under their feet. As Jerry Wexler put it in the liner notes to Sufferin’ Mind:

“In 1953 my partner Ahmet Ertegun and I bought his release from Jim Bulliet (sic) but naively neglected to get Slim’s signature on a contract.”

Slim turned up late for his first session with Atlantic at the J&M Studio in New Orleans. Jerry Wexler reports (from the same source), “(we) awaited him with growing trepidation as the hours went by” but follows this with what has to be one of the most frequently quoted (but usually bowdlerised) statements about the man:

“The next thing we saw was a tidal wave of humanity pouring down the street, children and grown-ups, couriers announcing to the world “Here come Slim, Slim on the way!” A fleet of three red Cadillacs pulled up, and himself emerged in a mobile bower of chicks in red dresses – matching the Cadillacs – and a retinue of couriers, senechals, janissaries, mountebanks and tumblers.”

The results as judged by the quality of the four singles that were released on the Atlantic subsidiary Atco between June ’56 and July ’58, didn’t quite live up to that arrival or the output from the Specialty period. Atlantic tried every which way to present Slim to a buying audience, from moving his style to something more in line to one that was selling to R&B buyers, to changing the arrangements, and to usage of writers other than Slim himself. Perhaps the most curious of the Atco singles was the pairing of I Won’t Mind At All with Hello, How Ya’ Been, Goodbye, both were perfectly good records, indeed they sounded like typical output from the Big Easy. What was missing was the distinctiveness of Slim, or to put it another way, his raison d’être. That said, I suspect if the listener hadn’t come across the “real Slim” then he or she might have been perfectly happy with these records.

It wasn’t all bad news; there were some solid tracks. His first A-side, Down Through The Years, a slow blues, suggested a return to the original Specialty approach of making the slow burner, the plug side. The guitar was there though not quite as in-your-face and omnipresent as in one of those same early Specialty slowies. Vocally, Slim delivered but with some reflective tones amongst the passion.

Both Down Through The Years and If I Should Lose You, Slim’s next single, were written by a man called Renald Richard, a trumpeter/songwriter who Ray Charles had met in New Orleans and appointed as his musical director. His biggest claim to fame came in 1954 with the generation of new lyrics (alongside Charles) to the gospel number It Must Be Jesus, transmuting it into I’ve Got A Woman. Although born in Thibodeaux, Louisiana, Renald started his musical career in New Orleans which shows clearly in I Won’t Mind At All, the other song he wrote for Slim. Cashbox describes If I Should Lose You as “a slow beat ballad blues” which is a good description but I feel that it could also have been a harbinger of the swamp pop which was starting to get noticed in SW Louisiana. I’ve seen Thibodeaux described as being in cajun country which adds a tenuous thread of credibility to my comment.

One more track should be mentioned from the Atlantic sojourn; it appeared on his final disc for them which was released in July 1958. The A-side, the self-penned When There’s No Way Out was a fairly typical doleful affair and, from its title, you’d have expected the flip, the non-self-penned If I Had My Life To Live Over to be similar in style. It wasn’t. The lyrics might have been but were actually more sentimentally inflected as befitted an oldie which of course it was, and one which would later be recorded by the likes of Eddy Arnold and Slim Whitman. The Slim Jones version was full of the kind of rocked-up treatment that Fats Domino typically gave to such numbers. An even closer comparison might be to another New Orleans based man (and Specialty artist), Lloyd Price, though he didn’t really adopt this sort of approach until a disc or two after his move to ABC-Paramount, later in ’58. He actually recorded this number but not until 1965.

As noted within the introductory quotes, Slim died on February 7, 1959, at the extremely young age of 33 (to explain the difference between quoted lifespan in one of the introductory quotes, see footnote #1). Although registered as being from complications from pneumonia, his death was actually caused by heavy drinking which had got progressively worse in spite of warnings from doctors. As a consequence, There’s No Way Out / If I Had My Life To Live Over turned out to be his final disc with both titles now looking prophetic and the bouncy approach on the second adding tragic irony.

Included within those quotes at the start of this essay was one from Earl King, one of many singer/guitarists who Slim influenced. That list includes names which are more likely to be known by the average reader like Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Guy. The last of that grouping referenced Slim several times in his autobiography “When I Left Home: My Story”. The para below was quoted in the 64 Parishes article:

“Guitar Slim showed me how to play the guitar in front of people. Whatever he did, I wanted to do. The excitement he caused, I wanted to cause. The pleasure he gave, I wanted to give. I wanted a Strat that I could beat up. I wanted a big crowd that I could drive wild. I wanted to be Guitar Slim.”

 

 

FOOTNOTES

1. Edward Lee Jones was born on 10th December 1925 in Greenwood, Mississippi, within the Mississippi Delta. (That’s what it says on his headstone though many articles state the year was 1926.) His mother died when he was 5 and he was packed off to his grandfather at the L.C. Plantation near Hollandale. He picked cotton from childhood but his musical interests also stemmed from that period encompassing singing, dancing, piano and guitar with piano preceding guitar. It was his dancing which first got him noticed. According to Ted Barron in the Perfect Sound Forever online music magazine: “Eddie Jones, also known at the time as “Limber-Legged Eddie,” would regularly show up at juke joints and clear the floor with an acrobatic repertoire of splits, jumps, twirls, and gyrations with any woman who could keep up with him”. Undoubtedly this experience in dancing was of major assistance in the creation of his later, by-all-accounts, spectacular stage act.

After his military service (1944-1946) he started making attempts to get into the professional blues scene, moving to Arkansas as part of the process. An early influence was travelling singer/guitarist Robert Nighthawk but later his listening scope widened to take on board the electric attributes of Texan guitarists like Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and T-Bone Walker. According again to Ted Barron, “in 1950, he told Warren (Willie Warren, Arkansas band leader) that he was leaving to go to New Orleans to make records and was going to call himself Guitar Slim”.

After trying to break through as a solo act, Eddie hooked up with 16-year-old pianist, Huey Smith and worked as a duo but then moved to a trio via the addition of drummer Willie Nettles. Imperial Records, which was based in L.A. but like Specialty kept an eye on what was happening in New Orleans, cut the boys on their first record Bad Luck Is On Me / New Arrival, and the career that followed is documented in the main text.

2. While I was working on the section leading up to Slim’s first Specialty session, one thought kept nagging at me: how (and why) was Ray Charles, who would have been based in New York after his move to Atlantic, recruited as arranger and pianist for the session? Searching the net for connectivity between Charles and Slim didn’t initially yield anything of significance. The fact that Ray had recorded a Slim song a couple of months or so earlier suggested that that might have had something to do with it and, when I discovered that the Charles session was held in Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studio in New Orleans with the Edgar Blanchard band, an outfit that was often used to back ‘visiting’ artists, this ‘clue’ grew a little more solidity. However, things didn’t really fall into place until I used Google Books on Mike Evans book “Ray Charles: Birth Of Soul” (I had already tried the same approach on Ray’s autobiography “Brother Ray” but while acknowledging sessions, it didn’t add anything of note).

Before revealing what emerged from my search in the Mike Evans book I should warn the reader that I hadn’t at the time, seen this information corroborated anywhere else but, at the same time, it didn’t clash with anything either. Apart from interviewing Charles, Evans also interviewed the men who used to hold power at Atlantic; that is, Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun plus Jerry Wexler who were involved in some of what follows.

It all starts off with Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler in New Orleans circa Summer 1953 to record local artist Tommy Ridgley with backing from the Edgar Blanchard Band. They were already aware they were short of a pianist so Ray was called in. Though it doesn’t say in the book, the record was Ooh, Lawdy My Baby / I’m Gonna Cross That River which was released that October.

It was apparently suggested that Ray cut some sides. He had nothing prepared but came up with two slow blues: Slim’s song Feelin’ Sad plus an original, I Wonder Who. The first was released in September 1953 while the second eventually appeared (along with the first) on The Genius Sings The Blues LP in 1961.

Evans then says that Ray had been in New Orleans since June that year. He liked the climate and he liked the music. From his interview with Ray, Evans quotes him as saying:

“There were good sounds in New Orleans back then … and I sat in with as many cats as I could. The blues were brewing down there, and the stew was plenty nasty. I was experimenting with my own voice and doing fewer and fewer imitations.”

Evans then says: “He (Ray – DS) was in no hurry to leave the city and ensconced himself at Foster’s Hotel, just a couple of blocks from the Dew Drop Inn, the prime venue on the local black music circuit.” Frank Painia, proprietor of the club, also managed Slim which resulted in Ray backing Slim on several occasions making him a natural fit for the later session, about which Evans says:

“By the time the recording session at Cosmo’s (sic) was fixed they’d got to know and respect each other, Ray – now more anxious than ever to break away from any residue “imitations” – being impressed by the other man’s flamboyant singing that reminded him a little of the hell-fire preachers he’d heard as a child.”

Ray was actually booked as pianist only (according to Evans and this sounds likely to me) but when it all kicked off he generated head arrangements for the musicians and they took them on board without any issues – Evans wrongly assumes that said musicians would have been used to “charts and arrangements” but that wasn’t always the way it worked at places like J&M.

All of which sounds credible (and Ray being booked as an arranger as most accounts claim has less credibility given his lack of visible experience in this arena).

3. I can add something to the above specifically on the Ray Charles Feelin’ Sad session and it’s something I spotted and noted in the main text prior to my research taking me to the Mike Evans book. Cal had dug into his copy of the Mike Leadbitter & Neil Slaven authored “Blues Records: 1943 to 1970”. The book lists Edgar Blanchard as the only guitarist present on the session and yet I can hear someone who sounds much more like Slim than Edgar who was renowned for his elegant guitar work. My theory is that both Edgar and Slim were present with the latter brought in by Ray because he was cutting his (Slim’s) song but not listed in the official roster of who was present. I would guess that Slim stayed for the second track cut, I Wonder Who on which I hear Edgar on most of the first verse but Slim on the high notes towards the end of that verse and then sporadically throughout. The Mike Evans book states that Ray was in New Orleans from June 1953 onwards through to at least late October that year and that he backed Slim in the Dew Drop Inn on multiple occasions (though doesn’t say when these started). This offers a smidgeon of credibility to another theory I have: that Ray was present at the Johnny Vincent session ‘in return’ for Slim being present at the Feelin’ Sad session. However, please note that this is only a theory; the Evans book aside, I have nothing at all to corroborate these thoughts.

4. But all that changed yet again. Both Cal and I kept on digging. He found a statement at the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll site that reported for the date of 9th August 1953 that: “Ray Charles is featured at the San Jacinto Club in New Orleans for the evening” which does place him as being in New Orleans a little earlier than the Feelin’ Sad session though not as early as June.

Meanwhile I discovered that Peter Guralnick had written a section about Ray and the recording of I’ve Got A Woman in his 2020 book “Looking to Get Lost: Adventures In Music And Writing”. He devotes a paragraph to Ray talking about the Guitar Slim/Things I Used To Do session, which closes with the statement: “But my music had absolutely nothing to do with what we did with Guitar Slim”.

To say that Guralnick was less than convinced by Ray’s statement would be an understatement since he follows those words with:

“There was more to it, though, despite the emphatic disclaimer. The unrestrained way that Slim attacked the material, the loose spontaneous feel that he brought to the session, above all the sheer uninhibited preacher-like power of his voice must have struck some kind of common chord, for all of Ray’s vehement denials. And – something he denied even more vehemently, to the end of his life – the way that Guitar Slim attacked his songs surely must have had some liberating effect. There was, it seemed, something almost inevitable in the feelings that it would come to unleash in his own music, feelings that up till now he had experienced only in his passion for gospel music.”

There was more but in general Guralnick conveys the view that Ray was strongly influenced by Slim’s approach (and that attack that he talks about was definitely present in Ray’s I’ve Got A Woman, a year or so later), but was loath to admit to it due to the prevalent perception that he was aware of, that much of his pre-Atlantic work was heavily in debt to other artists (Nat Cole and Charles Brown). Or to put it in my own words, not Peter’s, Ray was a proud man and, as such, wanted to be seen as his own man, not someone else’s clone.

To wrap the footnotes up on this topic I have two sentences to add. I feel that if someone as recognised as an authority in American Roots music, particularly in soul, as Guralnick has made these statements then the whole episode, including Slim’s position in it, should feature much more strongly in biographies of Ray and in works on the evolution of soul music. There may not be agreement on who was the greatest pioneer in the birth of soul but there’s no disagreement on who introduced it to a white audience; that was Ray and consequently all his influences are important.

5. For completeness I should put on record the fact that at roughly the same time as Slim’s second Specialty single saw release, Imperial, evidently spurred on by the success of The Things I Used To Do put out two discs containing all four tracks, as two singles from Slim’s solitary session with them but with Bad Luck Is On Me being renamed as Woman Troubles.

6. I used the phrase “as usual, self-penned songs” in reference to Slim’s Specialty output. To back up that statement I counted the tracks on the album Sufferin’ Mind which contained only tracks from that source. Out of 23 songs – that’s having removed alternate takes – the compiler lists only 4 as having been written by writers other than Slim.

7. “I have had my fun, if I don’t get well no more”

The opening words to one of the most striking blues ever written. Goin’ (sometimes “Going”) Down Slow was composed and first recorded (in 1941) by a man called Jimmy Oden who usually answered to the name of St. Louis Jimmy – with that city being the place where he started out earning a living from singing & composing blues though he was born in Nashville and moved to Chicago in the early thirties. This is just the original 1941 recording as St. Louis Jimmy. It was the B-side of a song called Monkey Face Blues – things weren’t very PC in those days!

One of the earliest covers of the number came from Ray Charles (with credit actually going to the Ray Charles Trio) on Swing Time Records in 1950 under the alternative title of I’ve Had My Fun. One wonders whether Slim had heard the Charles record and/or heard him playing the number in New Orleans. However, while SecondHandSongs lists the Charles cut as the 4th version to be recorded after the original, it’s preceded by a version from the Jack Dupree Trio and since Champion Jack was a New Orleans man it’s just as likely that Slim heard it from him. Here is that 1945 recording.

The first version of the song on Chess came from Little Walter in 1960 – his title was I Had My Fun though he also cut a version with the usual title– and if some of the earlier ones might have displayed touches of ebullience slightly at odds with the lyrics, his was downright insouciant, but it was Walter so it was enjoyable too. The Wolf version (on Chess too of course) which came a couple of years later paid full attention to those lyrics, lowering the tempo to funereal pace and, with added drama coming from chunks of recitation from Willie Dixon and excellent work from Hubert Sumlin and Henry Gray (on guitar and piano respectively) all topped by a masterly performance from the big man himself, was one of those records about which you could truthfully say “once heard never forgotten”. And while Dixon might have had his tongue in cheek you just knew that the Wolf was entirely serious. I would also direct the reader to the excellent Howlin’ Wolf Toppermost from Cal wherein he devotes three paragraphs – not counting the lyrics to that monumental introduction – to the Wolf rendition of the song.

That wasn’t all. Throughout the sixties and into the seventies there were versions from a shedload of major blues men, B.B. King, Jimmy Witherspoon, Memphis Slim and Otis Spann among them, followed by some from this side of the pond including Long John Baldry & the Hoochie Coochie Men, Davy Graham (a good take) and the Animals. In 1967, a soul blues version of the song appeared on Ms Franklin’s second Atlantic album, Aretha Arrives. With a brand new arrangement and an excellent performance from Aretha, this one scored in the memorability stakes too. The arrangement from the Atlantic guys got reused but set against more of a latin rhythm in the version of the number by Bobby Bland on His California Album in 1973. It gave Bobby some well-deserved chart attention.

There have been many, many more versions but this is probably a good place to stop.

8. I’ve mentioned the Gibson Les Paul Gold Top guitar a few times and might have been inspired to do so by its mentions in the song Mother Blues from another Texan guitarist, Ray Wylie Hubbard.

9. I’d like to thank Our Esteemed Editor for pointing me at the Zappa/Slim connection.

10. Two gentlemen who appear in this story but don’t often get many words written about them are Art Rupe and Johnny Vincent. Arthur Rupe, born Arthur Goldberg in 1917, came from immigrant stock on his father’s side, not unlike a goodly number of back-room movers and groovers in the R&B and pop scene in the fifties and sixties, who found himself in L.A. in the mid-forties determined to get into the music business. He set up a label called Juke Box Records in 1944 with a partner. It went well enough for him to break from the partnership and start another label, Specialty Records, in 1946. Based on his childhood love for black gospel music he built up a strong roster of artists, both artistically and commercially, including names like the Soul Stirrers (with and without Sam Cooke), the Swan Silvertones, the Pilgrim Travelers and more. He also moved into the secular side of black music, with artists like Roy Milton (an earlier Juke Box Records favourite), Jimmy Liggins and Percy Mayfield.

Triggered by the success that local competitor Imperial Records had had (and were continuing to have) with Fats Domino, in 1952 Art journeyed to New Orleans to search for talent. He found Lloyd Price who gave him a hit record in the shape of Lawdy Miss Clawdy which hit the #1 spot in the R&B Chart and stayed there for seven weeks. Price was one of the earliest of the black R&B artists who made records that sounded like (and/or got called) rock and roll when sung by a white man. Lloyd was followed at Specialty by names like Little Richard, Guitar Slim, Larry Williams and Don & Dewey.

The Wikipedia writer uses this sentence about Art: “It led him to value feeling over technique in the recording studio” (although that may well not be the line’s original source). Initially it struck me as trite but on reflection I can’t think of a better way of describing his approach, judging by the output. Names like Sam Phillips come to mind but Art Rupe should be up there with them. He may not always have been the hands-on man in the studio while such influential records were created but he was there; he made things happen.

Art died on 15th April 2022 while this Toppermost was being created. He was 104 years old.

11. Johnny Vincent – originally John Vincent Imbragulio so there was some immigrant blood in him too – was born in Laurel, Mississippi in 1925 (acc. to Dik de Heer in his TIMS article on Vincent though the Wiki writer states Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1927). He got into the music biz early via jukebox operation, owning a record shop and setting up his own label, Champion. His wide tastes were shown early with Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup in the Champion listing along with the likes of Roy Harris and his Happy Hillbillies. It didn’t last and, in 1953, Johnny accepted a role as A&R Man for Art Rupe at the new Specialty label in L.A. but operating out of an office in New Orleans that Rupe was opening up.

In his new role, Johnny was responsible for finding new artists for the label, plus promotion and often production. Along with Slim, Johnny was involved with the likes of Earl King, Huey Smith, Frankie Lee Sims and John Lee Hooker. In ’55, he was laid off by Art Rupe – Dik de Heer puts this down to a personality clash – but he bounced back, setting up a new label, Ace Records in Jackson, Mississippi, not a million miles from New Orleans. He took some artists with him and before too long was achieving R&B Chart success via Earl King (These Lonely Lonely Nights) and Huey Smith with the addition of vocal group, the Clowns (Rocking Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu and more). In 1958, he moved into the white market and hit the US Pop Chart with Frankie Ford and, even more so, Jimmy Clanton.

Those were the highlights. Johnny Vincent died in February 2000.

12. Earl King and Huey “Piano” Smith have already been featured in the “Scenes From New Orleans” series on Toppermost.

13. In the main text I use the phrase “he (Slim) was prone to dropping the name of Gatemouth Brown as a comparator” and while I’ve widened that comparison to some of Gatemouth’s peers it is true that there are clearer influences in Slim’s music to Gatemouth than to any other individual. New Arrival in particular has resemblances to two Gatemouth tracks: his debut single Gatemouth Boogie in 1947 and Boogie Rambler from 1949. While there’s no other instance of ‘borrowing’ as would seem to be present in this case, Slim did record a version of a Gatemouth song in his final session in 1958. The song was My Time Is Expensive cut by Gatemouth in 1949. This is the original and this is the Slim take on the song. Weirdly, the guitar intro on the original sounds like the sort of thing Slim might have done, but on his take, he ignores it.

13. Often when possible, I’ve chosen to close a Toppermost of an artist with a live clip. Unfortunately, there are none for Slim – acc. to Ted Barron in Perfect Sound Forever, “there is no known footage of his stage show anywhere” – which is a particular shame given his reputation as the “performinest man”. Instead, I’ll offer a couple of thoughts on The Things I Used To Do.

From myself:

Ray Charles has rightly garnered praise for his work on the session which produced the song (which apparently needed an unusually high number of takes for a track at the time) but I do wonder whether he had to do more on “Things” than say “Right guys, give me slow Domino”.

And, from Jeff Hannusch in the liner notes to The Things I Used To Do:

“According to Earl King, the idea for the song came to Slim in a dream, where he was confronted by a devil and an angel both of whom held the lyrics for a song. Naturally Slim chose the devil’s song which turned out to be “The Things I Used To Do”.

 

 

Buddy Guy 1991

 

Chuck Berry 1965

 

Stevie Ray Vaughan 1984

 

Albert Collins 1987

 

 

Guitar Slim photo 2

Guitar Slim (1926–1959)

 

Guitar Slim – The Mississippi Blues Trail

Guitar Slim discography at 45cat

“The Things I Used To Do: The Legend of Eddie ‘Guitar Slim’ Jones”
An hour long documentary produced by David Kunian in 2001/2 with interviews and music about Guitar Slim, the missing link between Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix (YouTube audio).

Guitar Slim biography (AllMusic)

Dave Stephens’ New Orleans scenes
#1 Fats Domino, #2 Chris Kenner, #3 Jessie Hill, #4 Barbara Lynn, #5 Benny Spellman, #6 Ernie K-Doe, #7 Irma Thomas, #8 Barbara George, #9 Earl King, #10 Smiley Lewis, #11 Professor Longhair, #12 Shirley & Lee, #13 Lloyd Price, #14 Dr. John, #15 Huey “Piano” Smith, #16 Roy Brown, #17 Johnny Adams, #18 Eddie Bo, #19 Guitar Slim

 

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Cal Taylor has avidly collected records since the early 1960s, gravitating to deep soul and blues. As time went on he got more and more into studying pre-war blues and accumulated a vast record collection. Cal saw many such artists live in the sixties. He has written several posts for this site including Charley Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Johnson and Otis Redding.

The Stephens/Taylor toppermosts include Johnny Ace, Arthur Alexander, Ray Charles, Cyril Davies, The Falcons, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Alexis Korner, Little Walter, Johnny Otis, Junior Parker.

TopperPost #1,018

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Shields
    Apr 28, 2022

    Dave and Cal. Thanks for another great Toppermost – superbly comprehensive as always. Knew ‘The Things’ of course but this piece fills in the rest of the story. Thanks again.

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