Magic Slim, a dynamic guitarist who helped shape the sound of Chicago’s electric blues, died Feb. 21 in a Philadelphia hospital. He was 75.
Born Morris Holt in Torrance, Mississippi in 1937, Slim’s recording career ran from the sixties through to recent times, built on his peerless guitar playing, raw vocals and fondness for the stage. His influence on the blues scene runs deep and his backing group the Teardrops have been described as “the last real Chicago blues band.”
He went on to forge a career that brought border–crossing recognition among the music community and, later, festival-goers. Eddie Vedder was one such fan. After hearing the bluesman wow a crowd, Vedder asked Slim to open a Pearl Jam show in Chicago back in 1994.
Slim’s story was one of perseverance and talent. He was raised Grenada, Mississippi, where he took an early interest in music, honing his vocal talents in the church choir. As a youngster, it’s said he fashioned a guitar with baling wire from a broom, which he nailed to the wall. “Mama whooped me for that,” recalled Slim.
His first love was the piano, but he switched to guitar after having lost the little finger on his right hand in a cotton gin accident. Later on, he’d work in the cotton fields during the week and perform the blues at house parties on weekends.
Slim’s recording career began with a series of singles in 1966, and he recorded his first album in 1977. With the release of “Gravel Road” in 1990, he began a twenty-two year association with Blind Pig Records, who issued ten albums and a live DVD during that timeframe.
Widespread acknowledgement would come much later. Slim and his band won a string of Blues Music Awards, and in 2011, the state of Mississippi erected a Blues Trail Marker in Slim’s honor in front of a building in Grenada where his mother had operated a restaurant.
Slim is also known to have had an encyclopedic repertoire of blues songs in his head. At request, he could play any one of hundreds of tracks.
“Magic Slim embodied the heart and soul of this label,” comments Blind Pig Records owner Jerry Del Giudice. “It was Magic Slim, and the guys like him, and their music, that inspired us to start the label in the first place.”
Slim’s latest Blind Pig release “Bad Boy” landed in August 2012.
More recently, the musician had suffered health problems that worsened while he was on tour in Pennsylvania.