Personalities | Guitar Slim | High-Voltage Hero | Guitar Heroes
In his brief, meteoric career, Guitar Slim (1926–59) electrified the blues in more ways than one. While most bluesmen didn’t alter their style as they moved from acoustic to electric guitar in the Forties and Fifties, Slim developed a uniquely electric style, utilizing a 150-ft (46-m) (some say 350-ft/107-m) cable between his guitar and amplifier and creating a sustained whining note that is now a regular practice but was a revelation in Slim’s time.
His live shows were equally high-voltage. Often dressed in a cherry-red suit with matching hair and white shoes, he would start by playing offstage before making his entrance on the shoulders of a burly minder. He was usually carried out the same way, often to the street outside where he would continue playing for passers-by. No one who saw him perform will ever forget him, as Buddy Guy will testify.
Born Eddie Jones in Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1926, Slim worked in the cotton fields before he began hanging around juke joints, singing and dancing with local bands. In 1946 he enlisted in the army, and when he returned two years later he had little time for Delta blues, instead developing a fixation on Louisiana guitarist Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown. He moved down to New Orleans in 1949, forming a band with Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and working up his flamboyant stage show.
His early recordings made little impression, but he hit the jackpot in 1954 with the swampy, gospel-flavoured ‘The Things I Used To Do’, featuring Slim’s unique guitar sounds and arranged by Ray Charles, who also played piano. It was the best-selling rhythm and blues record for 14 consecutive weeks and reached No. 23 in the pop charts. Slim’s career briefly went into overdrive, but none of his attempts at a follow-up, including the soulful ‘Sufferin’ Mind’, ‘The Story Of My Life’ and ‘Something To Remember You By’, or the rocking ‘Letter To My Girlfriend’, ‘Quicksand’, ‘If I Should Lose You’ and ‘It Hurts To Love Someone’, managed any kind of chart success.
Slim was known for his heavy drinking and womanizing, and his lifestyle eventually caught up with him. He died in New York in 1959 after a bout of pneumonia.
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