cd_sugarblueportraitWhat’s the first song you recall moving you as a kid?  The first song that I remember moving me was a tune by Lester Young called ‘PC Blues’, I heard it at home on my mothers HiFi. When she saw that I liked it she put on a tune by Lionel Hampton called ‘Flying Home’, from that moment I knew I wanted to play music!
How did the harmonica become your musical weapon of choice when so many others were picking up a guitar instead?  My aunt gave me a harmonica when I was about 12 or 13 years old and I loved it from the first. It was a friend that succored me in times of strife and a joy in happier times. It seemed that everybody and their brothers were playing guitar in the sixties, I wanted an instrument that was melodious and full of the warmth that only the breath can bring to the music. Harmonica is like the voice in that it can bring the pathos and passion to a piece of music like no other instrument can, it can set a mood so beautifully.
You have your own voice on the harp, was that something that came easy early on for you or did you have to work to develop it?  When I began to play I wanted to sound just like Little Walter and Sonny Boy Rice Miller but I was also very much moved by cats like Miles Davis, Lester Young, BB King and Charlie Christian. It seemed to me that the thing these players had in common was a mellifluous fluidity combined with a meticulous sense of time and gifted phrasing. I have tried to emulate and not imitate these masters. A great drummer, Michael Silva ( band leader for Sammy Davis Jr. )  told me that If you don’t sound like yourself you bring little or nothing to the table and you won’t get invited to dinner a second time!
Is there a simple, helpful trick to playing harp that first timers miss when attempting to play it for the first time?  The only ‘trick’ for lack of another word that is useful in learning to play harmonica or any other instrument is to listen to the masters, memorize, internalize, recreate and…. listen, listen, listen! Practice creatively, play passionately and if the music is in you it will come out.
Do you find yourself adding harp to everything you hear and, like cowbell, should there be more of it?  There are some tunes that need harp and some tunes that need more harp….than cowbell!
Of all the records you have played on or released yourself, what tracks or performances are you most proud of today?  I enjoyed playing on Mr. Willie Dixon’s Hidden Charm‘s recordings very much, the recordings with the Stones, Dylan, Brownie McGhee, Stan Getz, Hiram Bullock, Lonnie Brooks, Son Seals… As for my own recordings, I am very partial to a CD I cut that’s distributed by Alligator Records called In Your Eyes, I think that there are some great tunes there that are cutting edge still today though they were written and tracked in the 90’s. Code Blue is one of my more recent efforts and the material on it has been critiqued as classic from the first track to the last. I also like very much Threshold and Raw Sugar. If you have an inquisitive ear and progressive taste you will enjoy the aural journey these recordings will take you on and I believe you will enjoy the trip! I didn’t mention Blue Blazes above because it includes mostly cover tunes but I do like it as well.

When you think about the long history of the blues, do you have a favorite decade in terms of releases?  I love this music called The Blues, from Charlie Patton to Charlie Parker, from Miles Davis to Muddy Waters and all that came of the nameless progenitors that were before them and all that will come after. Because it is the history and voice of Black American art and experience which I am exceedingly proud and privileged to be a continuation of. I think that Willie Dixon may have said it best, “The Blues are the roots and the rest of the music are the fruits.” From The Blues to Jazz, through Rock to Reggae, from fusion to hip hop and music around the world that has been sired and inspired by those three supposedly simple chords, I love the Blues, every facet, every movement and every moment. It is the sound of the soul and spirit of my people.

Did the advent of funk and then disco in the 70’s have an influence on you or the Chicago blues scene overall?  Disco ain’t nothin’ but a shuffle turned inside out baby and we have Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie to thank for that, one of the great drummers of our times! Funk was around and being played a long time before it was called funk, a recombinant of jazz and blues with an urban swagger, struttin’ and cuttin’ like a straight razor!
SB%20&%20Keith%20RichardsHow did your relationship with the Stones come about when Mick Jagger was already considered a bitchin’ harp player in his own right?   In actuality I met the Stones indirectly through a recording I did with Louisiana Red called ‘Red, Funk and Blue’ that Keith Richards had heard a year or two before the Some Girls sessions in Paris. Keith told me that I was the most precise and skillful harp player he’d heard on record in recent times, so when we were introduced in Paris he’d already heard me play. When we hit in the studio the music flowed like a river in one take and it was in the groove , the rest is rock and roll history as they say!
If you could hop in a time machine to any day in your life, where might you revisit as a fly on the wall to relive a memory?  I would revisit the day at the Salle Playel theatre in Paris, France where Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald were playing. They invited me to join them on stage to play C Jam Blues with them, it was the one day in my musical life that I didn’t bring an instrument with me! I always, always carry an instrument with me now no matter where I go!!!.
Please visit Sugar online at


What are the plans for Magic Slim & The Teardrops in 2012?

I have been cast in an independent production movie about a blues man from Mississippi who gets involved with the ghost and two young musical prodigies. I am actually playing the lead role and will be performing as an actor for the first time in my life. The shooting starts next month and the movie will be called “We B Kings”. I also plan to record a new record in the next several months with a heavy emphasis on my guitar playing. Of course I will still be touring both here and abroad as much as possible and playing as many festivals as we can line up.

Where did your love of the blues begin and what was the first tune you ever learned on the guitar?  

My earliest recollection of blues is John Lee Hooker playing “Boogie Chillin” on his first album and I believe my first guitar attempts were Jimmy Reed licks. I then began to listen to blues on Nashville radio which included BB(King), (Little)Walter and Muddy(Waters). I then became good friends with Magic Sam who later christened me Magic Slim.

It’s often said that technical ability is the enemy of the best blues and rock & roll, why is that?  

Blues is not written on paper and isn’t technical music. Blues must be played with feeling and from the heart. If you concentrate too much on the technical, you can’t reach the public with feelings and emotion.

How do you play a song like ‘Mustang Sally’ every night and yet keep it feeling fresh? 

I keep my shows fresh by playing lots of different songs. I know several thousand blues tunes. Even though I get in a groove with certain tunes and tend to play them frequently before an audience, I rarely play a song the same way twice and am always adding new licks or extra licks to an arrangement.

You have played with so many great drummers over the years, is it true that no two are the same?  

Yes it is true that no two drummers play exactly the same. I prefer a drummer with a really solid heavy beat. Our band technical rider requests an extra snare be available because my drummers have been known to break a few.

Does it take a little time to lock in with new players or is it their job to find your groove at this point?  

It takes a little time to lock in with new players but I’ve always used highly talented guys who share my feelings for blues and they catch on fast. I tell my sidemen what I want and remind them if they are not on my groove and I rarely have to say anything at all with my present band. They know my stuff as well as I do and we are all pretty tight.

7.0 – What comes to mind when you think about the Chicago blues scene in the 70’s?  

When I look back on the Chicago blues scene of the 70s, I think about how many really great players there were and how at that time I felt I wasn’t as good as many of them. They were tougher than I was then but I would sure like to go head-to-head with any of them now. Right now I feel pretty tough myself.

What is the quintessential difference, if any, between ‘the Chicago blues’ and other streams within the genre?  

I like all kinds of blues but I’ve always preferred the style and tempo of Chicago blues. It just feels grittier and more down in the alley for me.

Has your philosophy about playing live changed at all over the years and what goes through your mind before going on?  

At this stage of my career I feel much more confident than in the earlier years and although I always enjoyed going head-to-head with the other blues guys, I now go on with a kick ass, take no prisoners approach where I leave everything I’ve got out there each performance. I never worry what the next guy is going to do. I just want to do the best I can when they call my name.

So many today consider you a national treasure and a living legend, how does that make you feel? 

It makes me feel good when people say nice things about me and my playing. I have spent a lot of time trying to learn how to play blues and each year I feel like I know little more than I did last year and it’s nice when people like what I do. I have been trying a long time and it seems to be working. I am thankful that my health and my energy level allow me to play at my best levels ever. Next year I plan to be a little bit better than I am now.