Genuine blues practitioners are hard to find these days. Most are deceased or retired, and while there are young blues talent taking on the role there, it is impossible to faithfully recreate the sounds of the blues giants of Delta, Texas and Chicago. whose music influenced a generation of Brits, who in turn introduced the blues to a new generation of Americans. Alabama Slim, discovered late in his life, is one of the few remaining bluesmen whose sound is authentic, rooted in the work.
Alabama Slim’s new album is The living room, produced by drummer Ardie Dean (Gregg Allman, Taj Mahal) and Tim and Denise Duffy of the nonprofit Music Maker Relief Foundation. Tim Duffy is the one who originally brought Slim out of juke joints, and in the studio and on the concert stage, through the Foundation, which preserves southern musical traditions by directly supporting the musicians who make this music, including bluesmen like Alabama Slim. The Foundation has since released two of his albums, The mighty flood and Blue and lonely.
Speaking to the American songwriter from his longtime New Orleans home, Slim (born Milton Frazier) explained how he became a recording artist and performed over the decades with his cousin Little Freddie King, who appears on the new album.
“I hadn’t done any type of recording,” Slim recalls. “I was with my cousin Little Freddie King, and he was playing at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, and I did this guitar thing and I sang a bit, and that’s where I met. Tim Duffy. And he said to me, when I was going to burn a CD to call him, he gave me his card, told me to make sure I called. I then burned my first CD, A mighty flood, when [Hurricane] Katrina struck.
In a tradition that almost echoes some of the work of the ethnomusicologist Lomax family, the Music Maker Relief Foundation helped Slim get a passport and provided him with living grants to help him put his career on the right track. He has since performed across the United States, notably at Lincoln Center in New York, and across Europe with the musical assemblage known as Music Maker Blues Revue. “I played a few spots here in New Orleans,” he said, “but when I met Tim I was so gone I couldn’t do too much in New Orleans, because when they needed me, I could be in Belgium or Spain, in Paris, in the UK, I went around the world. Sometimes we were five or six, we had a lot of fun doing that I was so glad I had the opportunity to do this, man, I was hopping like a little boy.
Jimbo Mathus of Squirrel Nut Zippers contributes significantly to The living roominstrumentation, and his cousin Little Freddie King appears on guitar throughout, where his guitar styles and Slim’s don’t always match in a traditional sense, but still work with each other. “Freddie plays a different blues than me, I play a different blues than him, but we can play blues together,” Slim said.
Influenced in his youth by blues musicians like Big Bill Broonzy and Lightnin ‘Hopkins, Alabama Slim can be compared to them, and many blues greats who came before him, like John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. And he can be compared to a non-blues legend, Willie Nelson, for his occasional disregard of singing in time for chord changes.
Unlike the majority of male performers today, Slim, soon to be 82, is old school, dapper and dressed in a suit and tie, with a felt tip top on top of his already 6’6 “frame. .. “Well,” he said, “when I was in school I always wanted to be clean and neat, you know? That’s how my mom raised me, be clean and neat. [She said] You’re not going anywhere like this.
Even though he understands the comparisons of one bluesman to another, he still considers himself an original in his own way. “My style is just my style,” he said. “It’s just my natural voice that the good Lord gave me, you know?” It’s just what I do. The blues, some people don’t like the blues because it reminds them too many memories, because when you play the blues, that’s what you experience in life, that’s what you go through and that you have met. And this is it. And people say, why do you wanna play the blues? And I say, ‘Well, it’s me!’ Because when you go through stuff, sometimes you get hurt, I just tell people that. And that’s all I can say about it.