February 7, 1959 – Guitar Slim was born Eddie Jones on December 10, 1926 in Greenwood, Mississippi. His mother died when he was five, and his grandmother raised him, as he spent his teen years in the cotton fields. He spent his free time at the local juke joints and started sitting in as a singer or dancer; he was good enough to be nicknamed “Limber Leg.”
After returning from World War II military service, he started playing clubs around New Orleans, Louisiana. Bandleader Willie D. Warren introduced him to the guitar, and he was particularly influenced by T-Bone Walker and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. About 1950 he adopted the stage name ‘Guitar Slim’ and started becoming known for his wild stage act.
He wore bright-colored suits and dyed his hair to match them, had an assistant follow him around the audience with up to 350 feet of cord between amplifier and guitar, and would occasionally get up on his assistant’s shoulders, or even take his guitar outside the club and bring traffic to a stop. His sound was just as unusual – he was playing with distorted guitar more than a decade before rock guitarists did the same, and his gospel-influenced vocals were easily identifiable.
He got together with Muddy Waters in Los Angeles, California for some lively playing.
His first recording session was in 1951, and he had a minor rhythm and blues hit in 1952 with “Feelin’ Sad”, which Ray Charles covered. His biggest success was “The Things That I Used to Do” (1954). The song, produced by a young Ray Charles, was released on Art Rupe’s Specialty Records label. The song spent weeks at number one on the R&B charts and sold over a million copies, soon becoming a blues standard. It also contributed to the development of soul music.
He recorded on a few labels, including Imperial, Bullet, Specialty, and Atco.
‘Guitar Slim’ was also known for his wild stage act. He wore bright-colored suits and dyed his hair to match them, had an assistant follow him around the audience with up to 350 feet of cord between amplifier and guitar and would occasionally get up on his assistant’s shoulders, or even take his guitar outside the club and bring traffic to a stop.
He was a bright burning talent who needed the spotlight. When the spotlight turned elsewhere, his career fading, Guitar Slim became an alcoholic, and then died of pneumonia in New York City on February 7, 1959 at age 32.
“The Things That I Used to Do” became the verified million plus record sale that catapulted Slim into a major impact on rock and roll, as he experimented with distorted overtones on the electric guitar a full decade before Jimi Hendrix. The song is listed in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. How much did it shape R&R?
Well considering how many superstars covered the song, you may say “massively”. Here is an incomplete list:
• Albert Collins
• Stevie Ray Vaughan
• Junior Parker
• Muddy Waters
• Lightnin’ Slim
• Jimi Hendrix
• Freddie King
• Chuck Berry
• Big Joe Turner – (1977)
• Elvin Bishop and The Grateful Dead in live performance only – (1969)
• G. Love and Special Sauce – (1994)
• Buddy Guy
• Luther Allison
• John Mayer
• Dan Auerbach (With his pre-The Black Keys band The Barnburners)
• Richie Havens
• Gary Moore
• James Brown, whose 1964 recording charted #99 Pop.
Not bad indeed.