This is album retro-review number 178 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.
A few weeks ago I retro-reviewed an album (The Unreleased 1963 Blues Festival) which consisted of various blues artists. One artist was a man I have a lot of musical respect for, so I decided it was time to pull one of his albums from my shelf and review it.
This artist is Memphis Slim and this, a CD album is titled – I Feel So Good.
Released on the German Past Perfect Silver Line label in 2002, it has the identifying code of 220378-203. The album has twelve tracks.
Sadly the accompanying fold out booklet, leaves much to be desired.
It does give an abridged version of his life and times, but other than a list of the tracks, there was no other info.
Nothing in regard to who played on what tracks, not even their recording dates. This is simply not good enough and does nothing for the credit of the producers of this CD.
As an aside there is another CD titled “Worried Life Blues Volume 3”, released in 2005 which has exactly the same track line up.
Memphis Slim was born John Len Chatman in Memphis, Tennessee.
His father Peter Chatman, sang, played piano and guitar, and operated juke joints, and it is now commonly believed that Slim took the name to honor his father when he first recorded for Okeh Records in 1940. In fact he was sometimes known as “Peter Chatman“, and his headstone names him as, “Peter” Chatman!
He started performing under the name Memphis Slim late in 1940, but he continued to publish songs under the name Peter Chatman.
Chatman spent most of the 1930s performing in honky-tonks, dance halls, and gambling joints in West Memphis, Arkansas and southeast Missouri. He eventually settled in Chicago in 1939, and began teaming successfully with Big Bill Broonzy in clubs around town.
In 1940 and 1941, he recorded two songs for Bluebird Records that became part of his repertoire for decades, “Beer Drinking Woman,” and “Grinder Man Blues.”
Both tracks were released under the name “Memphis Slim,” given to him by Bluebird’s producer, Lester Melrose.
Slim became a regular session musician for Bluebird, and his piano talents supported established stars such as John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, Washboard Sam, and Jazz Gillum.
Many of Slim’s recordings and performances until the mid-1940s were with guitarist and singer Big Bill Broonzy, who had recruited Slim to be his piano player after Joshua Altheimer’s death in 1940.
He and Slim quickly forged a friendship that transcended music, but even so, music was the glue that held them together.
After World War II, Slim began leading bands that reflected the popular appeal of jump-blues, generally that included the use of saxophones, bass, drums, and piano.
With the decline of blues recording by the majors, Slim worked with the emerging independent labels.
In 1947, the day after producing a concert by Slim, Broonzy, and Williamson at New York City’s Town Hall, folklorist Alan Lomax brought the three musicians to the Decca studios to record, with Slim on vocal and piano.
Lomax presented sections of this recording on BBC radio in the early 1950s as a documentary titled The Art of the Negro, and later released an expanded version as the LP Blues in the Mississippi Night.
In 1949, Slim expanded his combo to a quintet by adding a drummer. The group was now spending most of its time on tour, leading to off-contract recording sessions for King in Cincinnati and Peacock in Houston.
One of Slim’s 1947 recordings for Miracle, but released in 1949, was originally titled “Nobody Loves Me”.
It then become famous known as “Every Day I Have the Blues.” The tune was recorded in 1950 by Lowell Fulson , and subsequently covered by a raft of artists including B. B. King, Elmore James, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Natalie Cole, Ella Fitzgerald,Mahalia Jackson, Sarah Vaughan, Carlos Santana and Lou Rawls.
Early in 1950, Miracle succumbed to financial troubles. But its owners regrouped to form the Premium label, and Slim remained on board until the successor company faltered in the summer of 1951.
Although he was never a Chess artist, he had a connection when Leonard Chess bought most of the Premium masters after their failure.
Slim first appeared outside the United States in 1960, touring with Willie Dixon.
It was with Dixon that he returned to Europe in 1962 as a featured artist in the first of the series of American Folk Festival concerts, organized by Dixon and promoters Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau.
Willie Dixon brought many notable blues artists to Europe in the 1960s and 1970s.
The duo released several albums together on Folkways Records, including, Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon at the Village Gate with Pete Seeger, in 1962.
That same year he moved permanently to Paris. There his engaging personality and well-honed presentation of playing, singing, and storytelling about the blues secured his position as the most prominent blues artist for nearly three decades.
Two years before his death in 1988, Slim was named a Commander in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of France.
In addition, the U.S. Senate honored Slim with the title of Ambassador-at-Large of Good Will.
Memphis Slim died on February 24, 1988, of renal failure in Paris, France, at the age of 72.
He is buried at Galilee Memorial Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1989, he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
Wikipedia claims he did over 500 recordings, but I think that it may have been many more. I have determined he has over 185 albums credited to him, and while many are in fact compilations, a significant number are not.
Certainly that huge number of recordings is testament to his popularity and certainly a reflection of his talent.
1. Worried Life Blues
2. Don’t Want My Rooster Crowin’ After The Sun Goes Down
3. Lonesome In My Bedroom
4. Diggin’ My Potatoes
5. In The Evenin’
6. I Feel So Good
7. Rockin’ Chair Blues
8. Baby Gone
9. Cow Cow Blues
10. Miss Ida B
11. Fourty-four Blues
12. Trouble In Mind
Given there is little information on the liner notes, and just as little online about the tracks and the recording of this album, I had assumed the music was recorded late 1940’s and early 1950’s.
This is a deduction that I initially made when discussing the track Diggin’ My Potatoes.
However the deeper I dug, I became convinced that the chances are that most of the tracks came from a loose recording session assembled in a New York City recording studio on January 16, 1961, when Slim was joined by harmonica wizard Jazz Gillum, and guitarist Arbee Stidham.
What emerged was a loose trio that kept changing and consisted of or been influenced by, a list of musicians that included Big Bill Broonzy, Leroy Carr, Cow Cow Davenport, Curtis Jones, Walter Davis, Roosevelt Sykes, Blind Blake, Washboard Sam, Jazz Gillum, and Big Maceo.
Now Slim’s piano is a bit out of tune sometimes, as is Stidham’s guitar. This is not all the time but it makes this less than a perfect recording.
Yet the respect and reverence and wonderfully loose, intimate, and ragged delight these veteran blues performers bring to these tracks offsets the technical defects
Track 1 is Worried Life Blues.
It was originally released by Big Maceo in 1941 and in the opening of the track, Slim acknowledges Maceo’s great piano playing and his ability to sing the blues.
It really is a nice piece of blues, with Slim opening the piece in the “talking style of delivery, as he informs us as to why, Big Maceo.
I do just wish Stidham had tuned that bloody guitar, and, why didn’t the recording engineer say something?
We can only assume that is was such a loose session that just having fun was the objective.
Worried Life Blues
Track 4 picks up the pace with a piece called Diggin’ My Potatoes.
As Slim comments, it was written and played initially by Washboard Sam, who incidentally was the illegitimate son of the father of Big Bill Broonzy, who is also mentioned in a few tracks on this album.
Digging up info on the track reveals very little. It was released originally by Chess, and we could be forgiven if we thought it had been recorded at Chess but it came from the Premium Master’s bought by Chess.
It was released as a single by Chess, we could date it around the very early 1950’s.
However, listening to the guitar it would seem that this track was recorded at the same session as track #1 and therefore recorded around 1941.
It certainly has the same out of tune guitar !
There is no info on who his backing musicians were, but we can enjoy Memphis Slim’s great piano playing and actually enjoy the rawness of the recording.
Diggin’ My Potatoes
Now Slim formed, as indicated earlier, a tight working relationship and an equally tight friendship with the great Big Bill Broonzy.
Slim is quoted as saying of Broonzy, “He was the greatest that I ever have known“.
The track bops along at a great tempo with a boogie-woogie style of piano playing from Slim and the track tells of the happiness that a man feels when his “baby” is returning home to him.
I got a letter
It come to me by mail
My baby’s said she comin’ home
Hope that she won’t fail
You know I feel so good
Yes I feel so good
I just feel so good lord
I Feel like ballin’ the jack
Incidentally, if you ever wondered about the term “Balling the Jack”, it has nothing to do with sexual innuendo’s. It means; having a good time, dancing! It is believed to have first been used by railway workers to mean, “Going ahead at full steam”.
I Feel So Good
I can’t go past track number 9 – Cow Cow Boogie.
The track was originally recorded by Cow Cow Davenport. However, it shouldn’t be confused with another track by the same name which was very much a country style track recorded in 1942 by Ella Mae Morse. The Davenport version was recorded in 1928 and featured him playing some excellent early boogie woogie.
Now when Slim (oh so beautifully) plays this track he is playing not just homage to Davenport, but his style of boogie woogie playing which is of a very explosive style.
Of all the tracks on this CD, this one clearly demonstrates the high skill Memphis Slim had when it came to piano playing. Blues maybe it is, maybe it ain’t – great playing, it certainly is!
Cow Cow Blues
The following track, track 10 – Miss Ida B.
This is a totally different style of playing to the previous track, but again it features just Slim and his piano playing.
It’s a Roosevelt Sykes track and it is also pure unadulterated blues. The track so beautifully demonstrating Slim’s powerful and emotive voice equally supported by his piano playing, where his fingers really do “tickle’ the ivories.
I could tell the story of why people called Slim a copy of Sykes, but he tells the story far better.
Miss Ida B.
Is this the best Memphis Slim album?
I doubt it, but who can really tell? With so many albums under his name, and with some very good albums featuring his later work in sax and trumpet, and certainly with Matt “Guitar” Murphy, it is very likely there are better.
However this album I Feel So Good, does give an excellent indication to the huge variety of styles and artists who left an impression on this great blues pianist.
It isn’t an album I drag out for a dinner party, or for any sort of high energy gathering – but when I’m on my own, then sometimes some early Memphis Slim is just right!
There are a very few copies available on Discogs, but, the prices are under $10.00
There are no live recordings of the performances on this CD – so I have chosen a few other examples of Memphis Slims amazing talent.
Everyday I Have The Blues
Montreux Blues Festival
The 1963 European Blues Tour
Four O’Clock Blues
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –
Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.
#155. Billy Thorpe – Tangier
#159. The Band – Stage Fright
#162. Jimi Hendrix – Radio One
#170. Chain – Two Of A Kind
#171. Bob Marley – Legend
#176. B.B. King – The Best Of