Listening to Magic Slim's latest Blind Pig release, Blue Magic, it's hard to believe that one of the greatest living exponents of the Chicago blues (by way of Torrence, Miss.) once left Chicago after deeming himself not skilled enough to compete with Chi Town's big boys in the mid-'50s. For nearly 10 years, the story goes, Slim hunkered down back in Mississippi to hone his chops before reintroducing himself to a roundly stunned Chicago blue community in 1965. Granted, a lot can happen in a decade, but in Slim's case, the evolution was, well, magical to say the least.
No longer a second guitarist with a passion for the blues but limited ability, Magic Slim—the name bestowed on him by childhood friend and mentor Magic Sam—had reinvented himself as an all-around blues badass: band leader, searing guitarist, earth-moving vocalist and owner of a bizarre repertoire that included literally hundreds of songs.
Blue Magic stands as Slim's latest bastion of gritty licks and frenzied vibrato, but it's just another in a long line of such works that Slim has ushered in, especially since the late '70s when he became a staple of the Alligator and Rooster Blues labels and a hero among blues fans from the Mississippi bayous to Kansas City, St. Louis and beyond.
If the blues truly is living music, then it's perhaps never sounded so alive as it does in the capable hands of Magic Slim. Prepare to experience a national treasure.
Magic Slim & the Teardrops perform Friday, July 30, at El Rey Theater at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22.50 advance at El Rey or Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande NW), or $25 at the door.