Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Morris “Magic Slim” Holt dies at age 75
R.I.P. August 7, 1937 to February 21, 2013
By Bob Corritore
With the passing of Magic Slim we say farewell to one of the greatest traditional Chicago blues artists of our time. Magic Slim died of complications from a breathing disorder after weeks of hospitalization in Pennsylvania. He was 75.
Though a great singer, guitarist and band leader, it was Magic Slim's undeniable personality that set him apart. He could play heartfelt, rough and tumble Chicago blues with a zest that was unmatched. Every part of Magic Slim's being was the blues -- his geographical path, his hard partying, fun loving personality, and his far traveling, dedicated lifestyle.
Magic Slim's patented two-guitar driven Chicago blues sound was both a concert hall pleaser and a dance floor filler. He had, perhaps, the largest repertoire in the blues, knowing thousands of songs that he could call upon at any time. Living Blues Magazine put it this way: "Magic Slim consistently offers no-frills houserockin’ blues. He and his band are a national treasure."
Born in rural Mississippi to a farming life, Slim lost his little finger in a cotton gin accident at a young age, but that did not seem to hinder his guitar playing. He arrived on the Chicago blues scene in the mid-1950s and became friends with Magic Sam, who gave Morris Holt his official blues name – Magic Slim. At first Slim found the Chicago blues scene competitive and intimidating so he returned to Mississippi where he spent the next five years working on his craft. And then he returned to the Windy City to find success. After recruiting his brother Nick to play bass, Magic Slim & the Teardrops were formed, and in 1966 their first single "Scuffin" was released. Some years later, Slim's1975 single "I Wonder Why" produced by Steve Cushing (then a drummer in Slim's band) won high praise for its raw, gutsy sound. Throughout the mid- 1970s Slim and his tough band worked the South and North side clubs every night of the week, gaining a huge following and getting the attention of promoters and record labels.
Europe embraced Slim with numerous tours and record releases on labels such as MCM, Black & Blue, Isabel and later Wolf Records for whom Slim would record many albums. Magic Slim was also part of the highly celebrated 1978 Alligator Records compilation series Living Chicago Blues, which earned much U.S. airplay among blues DJs.
Slim signed with Blind Pig Records and released the CD Gravel Road in 1990. He worked with the label for 22 years, releasing 10 albums and a live DVD.
Slim's band became noted for the second guitarist who would play an essential role in Slim's sound and who would open the sets before Slim took over the microphone. This guitar role was defined early on by the great work of Junior Pettis AKA "Daddy Rabbit. After Pettis left the band, a long legacy of artists served as the Teardrops' second guitarist including Pete Allen, James Wheeler, Jake Dawson, Jon McDonald, and of course John Primer -- whose 13-year tenure with this band starting in 1983 is highly celebrated, and served as a launching pad for John's own powerful career.
In 1994 Slim moved from Chicago to Lincoln, Nebraska where he had played for years prior as a popular attraction at the Zoo Bar. In 2009 Slim's beloved brother and longtime musical partner, Nick Holt passed away. Slim's son, Shawn "Lil' Slim" Holt has emerged as a great young talent on guitar and has been a feature of some of Slim's more recent shows.
Slim's last release, Bad Boy on the Blind Pig label was released in mid-2012. A movie called "We Be Kings" was in the works that would have featured Magic Slim as its lead character in a fictional story of a rediscovered blues man. We can look back at Magic Slim's long and fruitful career and see a man who has lived his dreams.
After humble beginnings, Slim's persistent and consistent hard work and talent earned him a rightful place as one of the greatest blues artists of his time.
Slim's recordings will live on as a permanent testament to his greatness with over 30 albums released on labels such as Alligator, Wolf, MCM, Black & Blue, Candy Apple, Rooster Blues, Red Lightnin', Delmark, Evidence, Isabel, Storyville, Tone Zone, and most recently, Blind Pig Records who have annually released top quality albums by this great artist. He received numerous awards and nominations for his recordings, for his band and for his role as an uncompromising traditional blues artist.
Thanks to Slim's manager Marty Salzman and road manager Michael Blakemore for their amazing behind-the-scenes support work. Also thanks to the booking work of Max Cooperstein, Concerted Efforts, Adrian Flores, and Jillina Arrigo for their contributions over the years. Slim always lived his life on his terms and he met and exceeded his dreams. We can look back and think of all the times that he brought a smile to our face. He was the consummate bluesman and we will always love him for that. May he now rest in peace after his tireless work here on earth. We thank God for blessing us with the blues of Magic Slim.