No blues band pounds out tougher, grittier music than Magic Slim and the Teardrops. Their sound is what Chicago blues is all about--stomping backbeat, snarling guitar, rough-edged singing. It's pure, unabashed bar music, designed for drinking and dancing, for good times and hard times.
Slim and the Teardrops play three, four or five nights a week, usually in the South Side ghetto taverns like the Checkerboard, the 1125 Club and Florence's (where they hold down Hound Dog Taylor's old Sunday afternoon jam session slot), sometimes in North Side clubs like B.L.U.E.S. and Biddy Mulligan's, sometimes in their out-of-town stronghold, the Zoo Bar in Lincoln, Nebraska, and more and more often in concert halls and on festival stages across Europe.
They've earned one of the loyalest followings of any Chicago blues band. It isn't just their rough and ready music. It's Slim himself, all six foot six of him, grinning from the bandstand, working up a sweat, laughing and yelling at his friends in the audience, asking if there are any single women in the house, telling his fans that he doesn't let his band wash too often, because you can't play the blues if you get too clean. It's no wonder that, in Chicago or on the road, Slim can always draw a crowd.
It hasn't always been like this. A few years ago, Slim was just another guitar player on a scene bristling with musicians. In fact, it hasn't been so long since he wasn't even invited to jam, because the established bluesmen considered him too weak a guitarist. He had begun playing as a boy in Grenada, Mississippi, but even after moving to Chicago in 1955, he was only accomplished enough to pick up occasional gigs as a bass player with the then-unknown Magic Sam. It was Sam who renamed the teenager (and, at that time, thin) Morris Holt. (In fact, the nickname has never helped Slim much. He doesn't play much like Sam, and, after Sam's untimely death, Slim was resented for supposedly trying to cash in on his friend's reputation. Slim knew his nickname was hurting his career, but stubbornly refused to give up a name he considered a personal honor.)
After years of sitting in, Slim finally landed a gig with Robert Perkin's band. "Mr. Pitiful and the Teardrops," as lead guitarist. But when Perkins quit, Slim wasn't able to keep the band together. "Wouldn't nobody play with me," he recalls, "cause I couldn't play good enough." Discouraged, he returned to Grenada, whre he formed a band with his brothers Nick on bass and Lee Baby on drums. They played together for four years, while Slim made his living driving a truck.
In 1965, Slim gave Chicago another try. He re-established the Teardrops, using his brothers and then other musicians, and won a gig at the Boll Weevil Club. He cut a couple singles for the Ja-Wes label and landed a long-standing berth at the 1125 Club at 59th and May. On Sundays, he invariably jammed with Hound Dog Taylor at Florence's. Hound Dog loved Slim's playing, and when Brewer Phillips left Hound Dog's band in 1974, Slim was offered his slot. But, in his stubborn fashion he refused to abandon his own band, even though playing with Hound Dog promised more money and fame than he had ever earned with the Teardrops.
By this time, Slim had really created a style of his own. He developed a hard-edged, biting tone that he combined with the vibrato created by shaking his massive fingers against the strings, to duplicate the sound of a slide guitar while still being able to bend his notes. When Junior Pettis a.k.a. Daddy Rabbit a.k.a. Alabama Junior joined the band in the early '70s, he and Slim began using their guitars in a way no other Chicago band was doing. Rather than Daddy Rabbit laying normal blues rhythm chords under Slim's leads, he played propulsive single note patterns that weaved through Slim's soloing. Daddy Rabbit's patterns, reinforcing Nick's solid bass lines, and the super-hard backbeat that Slim has demanded of every Teardrops drummer, made them the best blues dance band in Chicago.
Slim's new style began appearing more frequently on records. He cut a terrific single, Teardrop, for the Mean Mistreater label (now reissued on an EP on Rooster Records). In 1976, he cut an LP for the French MCM label, and the same year finally gave up his dayjob. In 1979, Alligator released four of his tunes on the second album of the Living Chicago Blues series, and Slim cut a live album for the Candy Apple label in Lincoln, Nebraska. Slim began touring Europe regularly, whre he was hailed as the best "new" Chicago bluesman in years. He cut two albums for the French label, Isabel, from which the songs were chosen.
Magic Slim wouldn't claim to be the best blues guitarist in Chicago. Daddy Rabbit isn't the best rhythm player. Nick and Nate aren't the hottest bass and drums team. But when they play together, with their sweaty energy, their vast repertoire, their amazing musical e.s.p., their total dedication to good times blues music, and their let-it-all-hang-out attitude, the music they create truly is magic.
Reviews"Throbbing urgency¦juke-jumping Blue Monday Chicago Blues" - THE RECORD