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.
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.
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.