Ressurecting the Home of Memphis Slim by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Posted on 3/01/2010 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

(Memphis, Tennessee) Last night I met with President Darren J. Fallas and Vice President John Gemmill of the Memphis Blues Society, and Heidi Knockenheur and Donna Donald to discuss some items of interest and we chanced to talk about a project that will be near and dear to many of our readers' hearts. Across the street, directly east of the Memphis Stax Museum is the former residence of that great bluesman, Peter Chatman, popularly known as Memphis Slim. Slim's house has become dilapidated and needs restoring in a big way (photo above by Darren J. Fallas). The nice folks at Memphis Heritage and some other interested parties including the Memphis Music Foundation and the folks at Soulsville, USA are all interested in making an attempt to restore his home.

Memphis Slim was one of the early boogie woogie players back when that piano craze first started in USA in the 1930's.

Memphis Slim took his name from Memphis, where he was born and raised. Memphis Slim got his start playing the blues at the Midway Café, at 357 Beale Street (southeast corner of Fourth and Beale Street's) in Memphis in 1931. After his early career in Memphis, where he emulated barrelhouse piano players like Roosevelt Sykes and Speckled Red, he moved to Chicago, Illinois and recorded for Okeh Records (as Peter Chatman & His Washboard Band) in 1940. The same year he also recorded for Bluebird Records as Memphis Slim. He played piano as Big Bill Broonzy's partner until 1944. Broonzy, also a sophisticated performer, urged him to develop his own style. Big Bill and Charlie Segar are usually credited for writing the blues classic, "Key to the Highway." This polish gave Memphis Slim opportunities not only in the juke joints he had been playing, but also in the "uptown" nightclubs.

After World War II Slim joined Hy-Tone Records, cutting eight tracks that were later picked up by King. Lee Egalnick's Miracle label recorded the pianist in 1947; backed by his jumping band, the House Rockers (its members usually included saxophonists Alex Atkins and Ernest Cotton), Slim recorded his classic "Lend Me Your Love" and "Rockin' the House." The next year brought the landmark "Nobody Loves Me" (better known via subsequent covers by Lowell Fulson, Joe Williams, and B.B. King as "Everyday I Have the Blues") and the heartbroken "Messin' Around (With the Blues)."

The pianist kept on label-hopping, moving from Miracle to Peacock to Premium (where he recorded the first version of the down-tempo blues "Mother Earth") to Chess to Mercury before staying put at Chicago's United Records from 1952 to 1954. This was a particularly fertile period for the pianist; he recruited his first permanent guitarist, Matt Murphy, who performed "The Come Back," "Sassy Mae," and "Memphis Slim U.S.A." He also worked with bassman Willie Dixon.

I got to play with Matt Murphy one night at the Black Diamond on Beale and he was not only a great entertainer but also a wonderful kind man who loves the music and all of us who are trying to keep it alive. He invited me to join him as piano player on his show at the King Biscuit festival in Helena that year and I have always regretted that I could not make it.

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In all, he recorded more than 20 albums under his own name, and appeared on many more recordings as a sideman.

Slim left the United States for good in 1962. Slim lived in France most of his days and conditions there were much better for him than in the South during the days of segregation. Before Memphis Slim passed away, my friend Don McMinn brought him back to Memphis to play some gigs and I got a chance to meet him at a gig they were playing on Washington Street in Memphis back in the 1980's.

My old friend Jeff "Stick" Davis who used to play some in my band

My friend Billy Earheart and Memphis Slim
Billy E. taught me about drawbar registration for the Hammond organ

Slim was playing with Don's band, then called the Memphis Blues Review, and they were comprised of several of the old members of the Amazing Rhythm Aces including Jeff "Stick" Davis on bass and my buddy, Billy Earheart on keyboards. Billy went on later to play on the road with Hank Williams, Jr. and many other famous musicians.

Memphis Slim

The club they were playing, which is no longer extant, was an old nightclub called the El Morocco, which in it's last days was used for square dancing and was available for rent for larger events as it would hold quite a large crowd and had a big dance floor. This night the place was packed and everybody there was excited to see the return of Memphis Slim. Slim put on a tremendous show and played one of my favorite classic blues, "Everyday I have the Blues," which he wrote. Here's a link to a video of him playing this song he called his bread winner:

As a young blues player and a big fan of Memphis Slim, I was thrilled when Don and Billy introduced me to this kind old gentleman and sat me down right next to him at their table during a break in the show. Slim was drinking Grand Marnier and I remember noticing how extremely long his fingers were when I shook his hand. He was very friendly and an extremely amusing and entertaining person on and off the stage. That night I asked him if it would be alright with him if I played his song during my little shows and he was delighted that I had asked and assured me that he would be very pleased to be remembered by his fellow musicians in his home town. He was a truly elegant gentleman and meeting him was a great moment in my life.

Papa Don McMinn

I also got to hear Memphis Slim play with Don McMinn at our old outdoor music festival the Schlitz Festival, on Main Street back in the 80's. It was another incredibly entertaining show with lots of great solos from both Don and Slim and a highly appreciative crowd cheering them on in the Memphis afternoon sun.

Memphis Slim died on February 24, 1988, of renal failure in Paris, France, at the age of 72. He is buried at Galilee Memorial Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee.

Memphis Slim's final resting place, Galilee Gardens, Memphis, Tennessee

In 1989, he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Brad Webb

After some inquiries today by my friend, Brad Webb of I-55 Productions, we learned a bit more about the house resurrection project. Brad is my old bandmate who played with me in the band with Blind Mississippi Morris and with whom I have recorded a bunch of songs over the years. He is a fine guitarist and a very kindhearted, dedicated and soulful human being. We got this reply back from Dean Deyo, President of the Memphis Music Foundation:

Brad, there is a group that has started to do some work there but it is moving slowly.

I know a team from Memphis Heritage and the U of M spent a whole weekend at this house a few months ago and tried to clean it out and shore it up – there have been several architects and planners involved looking at it.

They have plans for it but it is depending on the economy and so probably still in the future…. Deanie Parker is the Director of Soulsville and is aware of the project – it is called Memphis Music Magnet – and I am working on it as well – we would appreciate any assistance

Dean A. Deyo

Thanks to the American Blues News, I will keep you all posted on our progress and also pass along how we can all offer donations and assistance to this project. Within just a few blocks of the STAX museum there are the homes of probably 15 or 20 famous musicians including Isaac Hayes, Johnny Ace Alexander and Aretha Franklin, just to name a few.

From the Memphis Commercial Appeal archives:

(photo by Dave Darnell)

Memphis Slim came from his home in Paris to play in Mississippi for the first time in 40 years in 1986. He performed at the Mississippi Delta Blues Festival at Freedom Village, near Greenville, on September 20, 1986. "The average blues singer has been taught to be ashamed of the blues. It was America's original art and it came from black people. So naturally they wanted to make us ashamed of it - and they did a good job of brainwashing. Now, it's almost too late," the 70-year-old bluesman said during an interview in his Southwind Motor Coach as he waited to go on. "I don't know what the young people are going to do. But if we don't get a new generation to do something about it, I don't know what's going to happen. They're calling blues everything but blues. They're calling it soul and rock-and-roll, but it's still the damn blues. I wish I knew if the young people are going to take it over, but I don't."

This is a video of one of the greatest BLUES bands of all time. Give it a listen:


Year Title Label
1959 Memphis Slim and the Real Boogie-Woogie Folkways Records
1960 Memphis Slim and the Honky-Tonk Sound Folkways Records
1960 Travelling with the Blues Storyville
1960 Blue This Evening Black Lion
1960 Pete Seeger at the Village Gate with Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon - Vol 1 Folkways Records
1960 Songs of Memphis Slim and "Wee Willie" Dixon Folkways Records
1961 Tribute To Big Bill Broonzy Candid
1961 Steady Rollin' Blues: The Blues Of Memphis Slim OBC
1961 Memphis Slim U.S.A. Candid
1961 Broken Soul Blues Beat Goes On
1961 Alone With My Friends Battle
1961 Chicago Blues: Boogie Woogie and Blues Played and Sung By Memphis Slim Folkways Records
1961 Blues by Jazz Gillum Singing and Playing His Harmonica: With Arbee Stidham and Memphis Slim Folkways Records
1961 No Strain Bluesville
1962 Sonny Boy Williamson & Memphis Slim: In Paris GNP Crescendo
1962 Pete Seeger at the Village Gate with Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon - Vol 2 Folkways Records
1962 Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon at the Village Gate with Pete Seeger Folkways Records
1963 All Kinds of Blues Bluesville
1963 Jazz In Paris: Aux Trois Mailletz Polygram
1964 Clap Your Hands Maison De Blues
1967 Bluesingly Yours Maison De Blues
1968 Lord Have Mercy On Me Maison De Blues
1969 The Bluesman Maison De Blues
1969 Mother Earth One Way Records
1970 The Blue Memphis Suite Maison De Blues
1970 Messin' Around with the Blues: The Very Best Of King
1971 Boogie Woogie Maison De Blues
1971 Born With The Blues Fuel 2000
1971 Blue Memphis Wounded Bird
1972 South Side Reunion: Memphis Slim & Buddy Guy Sunny Side
1973 Legacy of the Blues, Vol 7: Memphis Slim Gnp Crescendo
1973 Memphis Slim Storyville
1973 Soul Blues Acrobat Records
1973 Raining the Blues Fantasy
1973 Memphis Slim - Favorite Blues Singers Folkways Records
1973 Very Much Alive and in Montreux Universal International
1975 Going Back To Tennessee Maison De Blues
1981 Rockin' the Blues Charly
1981 Memphis Heat: Canned Heat & Memphis Slim Sunny Side
1981 I'll Just Keep On Singin' the Blues SLG, LLC
1990 Steppin' Out: Live at Ronnie Scotts Castle Music UK
1990 Together Again One More Time/Still Not Ready For Eddie Texas Music Group
1990 Parisian Blues Polygram
1990 The Real Folk Blues Mca
1992 Blues Masters Vol 9: Memphis Slim
1993 London Sessions 1960 Sequel Records UK
1994 The Blues Collection Vol 13: Beer Drinkin' Woman ADD
1994 Lonesome Legacy International
1994 Live at the Hot Club BMG International
1995 Boogie After Midnight Chicago Music Co.
1996 The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1: 1940-1941 (Peter Chatman As Memphis Slim) EPM Musique
1996 Come Back & Other Classics Masters Intercontinental
1996 The Bluebird Recordings, 1940-1941 RCA
1997 Dialogue in Boogie: Memphis Slim & Philippe Lejeune Happy Bird
1998 Lonely Nights Catfish
1998 Very Best of Memphis Slim: The Blues Is Everywhere Collectables
1999 Life Is Like That Charly UK
2000 The Folkways Years, 1959-1973 Smithsonian Folkways
2000 Blues At Midnight Catfish
2000 Memphis Slim at the Gate of the Horn Vee-Jay
2001 The Complete Recordings, Vol. 2: 1946-1948 EPM Musique
2001 Essential Masters Cleopatra
2001 Blue and Lonesome Arpeggio Blues
2001 Ambassador of the Blues Indigo UK
2002 The Complete Recordings, Vol. 3: 1948-1950 EPM Musique
2002 I Am The Blues Prestige Elite
2002 Kansas City Classic World
2002 Boogie For My Friends Black & Blue France
2002 The Come Back Delmark
2002 Blues Legends: Memphis Slim Lead
2003 Three Women Blues
2003 The Complete Recordings, Vol 4: 1951-1952 EPM Musique
2004 Worried Life Blues
2004 Grinder Man Blues Snapper UK
2004 The Best of Memphis Slim Liquid 8
2005 Boogie For 2 Pianos Vol 1: Memphis Slim & Jean-Paul Amouroux
2005 Paris Mississippi Blues Sunny Side
2005 Double-Barreled Boogie: Memphis Slim & Roosvelt Sykes Sunny Side
2006 Forty Years of More Passport Audio
2006 Memphis Suite Sunny Side
2006 Rockin' This House: Chicago Blues Piano 1946-1953 (CDs A&B) JSP Records
2006 The Sonet Blues Story Verve Records
2006 An Introduction to Memphis Slim Fuel 2000
2007 The Ultimate Jazz Archive 14 1940-41 (1 Of 4) Carinco AG
2007 Sings the Blues Wnts
2007 Chicago Blues Masters Vol 1: Muddy Waters And Memphis Slim Capitol
2007 Cold Blooded Woman Collectables Records
2008 Greatest Moments Stardust
2008 Four Walls Jukebox Entertainment
2008 Born To Boogie Unlimited Media
2008 Legend of the Blues Wounded Bird Records
2009 Fip Fil and Fim 101 Distribution

© Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms, 2010


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American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

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