Memphis Slim – Blues Piano
John “Peter” Chatman otherwise known as “Memphis Slim” ranks as one of the greatest blues pianists of all time. Hailing from Memphis and exposed to the blues at an early age due to his family members being musicians. So, it’s no surprise that he would embrace music as well. As a child, he would watch his father perform with the “Washboard Band”, that includes piano player Roosevelt Sykes. Who’s a well-known and influential pianist in the area. Inspired by Sykes playing, young john Peter Chatman teaches himself the piano and starts playing the juke joints and dancehalls throughout the Southeast. His style of playing mostly reflects the popular style of Jump Blues. Like most musicians of his time, he moves to Chicago where the action is in 1939.
Memphis Gets Busy in Chicago
Heading to Chicago, he quickly learns a lot about the blues while hanging out with some of the city’s most elite players. Such as Big Bill Broonzy and harmonica player “Sonny Boy” Williamson. After a while of playing, he starts recording with Okeh Records under the name of Peter Chatman. Shortly after, he’s recording at the famous Bluebird Records in 1940. It’s during this time he uses the name Memphis Slim as a suggestion from producer Lester Melrose. Making the rounds in Chicago, he releases his first single “Beer Drinkin’ Woman” while still performing as a session player for the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson, Jazz Gillum and filling in with Big Bill Broonzy when his piano player passes.
Broonzy Encourages Slim To Find His Own Path
While performing with Big Bill Broonzy, it’s suggested that he finds his own style of playing the piano and develop his own signature sound. Which he does by way of pounding on the piano keys so hard that you know those keys were crying for mercy! Add his loud thunderous voice to the mix and well, you have the perfect formula to make yourself stand out. Which he did.
Memphis Slim & The House Rockers
After a while, Memphis Slim goes out on his own and creates his own band called the “House Rockers”. He also jumps to another label called the “Miracle Label” in 1946. It is here where he starts creating his iconic music. While songs such as “Rockin’ the House,” “Messin’ Around,” and “Angel Child” all became hits for Slim, others like “Nobody Loves Me” (more popularly known under the title “Everyday I Have the Blues”) became Blues standards and huge hits for later artists like B.B. King. Shortly after, his music takes on another path when he meets up with the addition of Matt “Guitar” Murphy, a guitarist who had previously played with Howlin’ Wolf. With him in the band, his music takes on a new dimension that enhances the band’s sound. Another turning point is working with bassist Willie Dixon.
American Folk Blues Festival
Slim and Dixon in the 60s, Slim sign with German promoters to tour internationally. Here they find an audience that was more appreciative of the music they were performing. Meanwhile, in America a new genre called Rock ‘n’ Roll is taking over the music scene. These European Blues performances become known as the American Folk Blues Festival. After performing in Europe, in 1962, Slim decided that Paris is where he wants to live and perform. Even more, he opens a blues club in Paris called the Memphis Melodies Club. He passes away in Paris in 1988.
Lucky for us, he leaves us a nice legacy of music for future generations.
Keeping the Blues Alive
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