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Remembering Magic Slim: Keeper of the Flame

"Magic Slim, a singer and guitarist acclaimed as a keeper of the flame of electrified Chicago blues, died on Thursday in Philadelphia. He was 75," the New York Times reports.

"Magic Slim was one of the last in a long line of musicians who grew up in the Deep South and then moved to Chicago, where the blues evolved in the years after World War II from a folk music played primarily on acoustic guitars to a loud, raucous, distinctly urban music, played on electric instruments by the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, that was a precursor of rock 'n' roll.

"He was known not just for his musicianship but also for the intensity of his live performances. The music magazine No Depression once described his music as "the in-your-face variety" of blues, noting, 'Magic Slim doesn't just play the blues, he body slams his audiences with a vicious guitar attack that pins them to the floor.'"

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"Born in Torrence, Miss., [Morris 'Magic Slim' Holt] took an early interest in music," the Lincoln, Nebraska Journal Star notes.

"A cotton gin accident that took the little finger on his right hand caused the young Holt to switch from piano, his first love, to guitar

"At 11, Holt moved to nearby Grenada, Miss., where he met and became friends with guitarist Samuel 'Magic Sam' Maghett, who supplied him with guitar advice early and the name 'Magic Slim' later.

"In 1955, Holt made his first trip to Chicago, where he played bass in Magic Sam's band and picked up his new name. But he returned to Mississippi, discouraged, and educated himself in the blues.

"A few years later, he returned to Chicago, became a staple on the blues scene and began his recording career with the single 'Scufflin'' in 1966. He formed the Teardrops with brothers Nick and Douglas the next year."

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"Slim had more than 30 albums to his credit since releasing his debut, Born On a Bad Sign, in 1977," the BBC notes.

"[Slim] became a Chicago blues fixture in his own right, developing a guitar style that blended a distinct vibrato with a slide-guitar-like sound formed with his bare fingers against the strings.

"The guitarist was recognized as much for his powerful, gruff vocals as his musicianship and was known for playing with picks on both the thumb and index finger of his right hand."

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"When Magic Slim thundered at the microphone - his voice rough and ragged, his guitar riffs tough and punchy - listeners heard classic Chicago blues as it was conceived in the 1950s," Howard Reich writes for the Tribune.

"Not nostalgic or dated but simply unconcerned with latter-day musical fashion or commercial considerations.

"That approach, which Mr. Slim clung to throughout his career, made him a symbol of Chicago blues around the world and an upholder of its noblest traditions."

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"Eddie Vedder was a fan, and in 1994 Slim opened a Pearl Jam show in Chicago," Pitchfork notes.

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Blind Pig Records biography.

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Wikipedia entry.

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In Vienna, 1991:

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At a Chess session in Chicago, 1975:

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At the 1125 Club in Chicago (59th and May), 1974:

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At the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, 2009:

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on February 23, 2013


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