Magic Slim, a younger contemporary of blues greats Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf who helped shape the sound of Chicago’s electric blues, died Thursday. He was 75.
He died shortly after midnight Thursday at a Philadelphia hospital, said his manager, Marty Salzman. The musician had health problems that worsened while he was on tour several weeks ago in Pennsylvania, Salzman said.
Magic Slim and his backing band, the Teardrops, performed a no-holds-barred brand of Chicago-style electric blues, led by his singing and guitar playing, and were regulars on the music festival circuit.
Slim’s given name was Morris Holt. The Mississippi native established himself in Chicago’s thriving blues community in the 1960s, but more recently lived in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Holt’s story was one of persistence. Like many bluesmen from rural Mississippi, he left a life that revolved around cotton fields and moved to Chicago in 1955. But competition on the South Side was fierce in those days, and he moved back home after failing to establish himself.
Playing plantation parties and small gigs, he honed his skills to a fine edge and enlisted his brothers, Nick and Douglas, as his backing band. They returned to Chicago, where they formed the Teardrops and refused to be dismissed.
Younger than many of the renowned bluesmen in Chicago, he maintained a career well into the 21st century. Holt and the Teardrops won blues band of the year at the 2003 Blues Music Award, and he released a record of covers last year.
“If you were going to take somebody who’d never seen blues to one of their shows, it would be like putting them in a time machine and putting them in 1962,” Salzman said. “No frills, no rock ‘n’ roll. It was just straight-ahead, real-deal blues.”
Holt came by the sound authentically. Born in Torrance in 1937, he grew up in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta. His first love was piano, but he lost the little finger on his right hand to a cotton gin and switched to guitar. Like many of his contemporaries, he started out on a one-string instrument he made by nailing a piece of wire stolen from a broom to the wall.
He moved to Grenada at age 11 and met Magic Sam, an older guitarist and influential blues figure. Sam taught him about the instrument and gave him his first job as a bass player years later when he first moved to Chicago.
He didn't make his first recordings until 1966. He released his first album, Born Under A Bad Sign, on a French label in 1977 and put out an album of covers, Bad Boy, last year.
Salzman said that bleeding ulcers sent Holt to the hospital, but that he also suffered from heart, lung and kidney ailments.