Sat November 23, 2013
marc on the blues

Memphis Slim, A Pianist And Singer With A Powerful Influence On Piano Blues

Prolific, sophisticated, powerful, stunning and thundering. Those are only a few of the adjectives that fail miserably to sum up Memphis Slim.

The Jump Blues and Chicago influenced pianist made over 500 recordings and preformed to huge acclaim across the United States and Europe from the early 1930s until the late 1980s.

Memphis Slim was born John Len “Peter” Chatman in 1915 in Memphis. His father was a guitar playing singing juke joint operator named Peter and Slim probably took that name to honor his father’s influence in 1940 when he recorded for Okeh Records.

Memphis Slim spent much of the 1930s playing in the dance and gambling halls of the Memphis area.

In 1939, Slim made the move to Chicago where he teamed up with the great Blues guitarist Big Bill Broonzy. It was Broonzy who told Slim he could and should develop more of his own style. Encouraged by that belief in him, Slim did just that and became a distinctive piano force that has since been copied by hundreds of admirers.

At the same time he backed up Broonzy, Memphis Slim also recorded with Okeh Records as a band leader. After five years as a dominant force on the Chicago Blues club scene the duo split and Slim began his solo career in earnest.

Over the next 2 decades Memphis Slim moved from record label to label and maintained a prodigious rate of production with major recordings including “Everyday I Have the Blues” and “Rockin’ the House.” The latter gave Slim’s band its House Rockers name, which they were using about 25 years before Hound Dog Taylor’s band.

Over the years Memphis Slim, like most all of the Blues greats, racked up an impressive list of collaborations including Willie Dixon and Slim’s long time guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy, who the general public probably know best as a member of The Blues Brothers.

It was with Willie Dixon that Memphis Slim made a fateful tour of Europe in about 1960. Like a number of African-Americans, Memphis Slim was acutely aware of the inequities heaped on him in the America of the mid-20th century. Many African-Americans like Champion Jack Dupree and Josephine Baker chose to expatriate to Europe and after his tour with Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim joined the expatriates.

During his quarter century in Europe Memphis Slim found many recording and performing opportunities and was delighted to spend the finally 26 years of his life as Euro-based Blues royalty.

You can enjoy the powerful voice and driving piano of Memphis Slim this week on the Nine O’clock Blues.


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