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A father figure and a mysterious fire

January 2, 2011

Today we’ve posted another audio clip, this one from Alabama Slim, a native of Vance, Alabama who now lives in New Orleans and performs sometimes with his close friend and distant cousin Little Freddie King. Slim was one of the first bluesmen I met even before we received funding for this project. I heard him play guitar and sing at Checkpoint Charlie, a bar and laundromat outside the French Quarter, where legless mannequins sport Mardi Gras beads and the resident housecat eats from a martini glass on the bar. Slim played the first set with street musicians Slewfoot and Cary B, along with the superb clarinetist Nervous Duane. It was a lively set of straight-up blues. Then, in the second set, there was an unannounced appearance by King himself, who added his own highly-charged raw country-blues sound.

L-R: Alabama Slim, Cary B, Slewfoot, Nervous Duane at Checkpoint Charlie. Photo by Barry Yeoman.

The occasion was a visit by Tim Duffy, founder and director of the North Carolina-based Music Maker Relief Foundation, a group that aids “the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music.” Music Maker provides financial assistance, cuts records, and arranges gigs for musicians who are 55 and older, rooted in a Southern musical tradition, and earning less than $18,000 a year.

My visit to Checkpoint Charlie provided the initial inspiration for this documentary series. It also inspired Truckin’ My Blues Away, an hour-long radio doc about Duffy, King, and three other Music Maker artists. Richard Ziglar and I produced Truckin’ in early 2010 for AARP’s Prime Time Radio.

Alabama Slim was born in 1939; his father built trains at the Pullman plant and his mother was a domestic. He learned the blues from his parents’ old 78s. Here’s a little more, in Slim’s own words, from Music Makers’ web site:

I grew up listening to the old blues since I was a child. I spent summers with my grandparents who had a farm. Them old folks would get to moanin’ while they worked, and I just started moanin’ with them. That’s where I learned to sing. When I got grown I formed a band and we played little juke joints in the ’50s and ’60s. In ’65, I came to New Orleans after Hurricane Betsy.  Got me a job with a moving company and then one making cooking oil. My cousin Freddie King was drinking hard in those days, and I was too. We jammed every once in awhile. By the time the ’80s rolled around I was not doing much but Freddie always checked on me. By the ’90s I got myself together and we have been the best of friends ever since, tighter than brothers really; there is not a day that goes by when we do not speak or see each other.

In the three-minute audio clip we posted here, Slim talks about the song “Mr. Charlie,” which you can download here for 99 cents from iTunes (or you can download the entire CD, The Mighty Flood, for $9.99). It’s a tale of the father figure who took young Slim under wing, and of a mysterious fire.

Click here to listen to Slim’s story.

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