Memphis Slim

Memphis Slim

Memphis Slim
Background information
Birth name John Len Chatman
Also known as Peter Chatman
Born (1915-09-03)September 3, 1915
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Died February 24, 1988(1988-02-24) (aged 72)
Paris, France
Genres Blues
Occupation(s) Vocalist, bandleader, composer
Years active 1930s – 1980s
Labels Bluebird, Hy-Tone, Miracle, Premium, Mercury, United, Vee-Jay, Folkways

Memphis Slim (September 3, 1915 – February 24, 1988) was an American blues pianist, singer, and composer. He led a series of bands that, reflecting the popular appeal of jump blues, included saxophones, bass, drums, and piano. A song he first cut in 1947, "Every Day I Have the Blues", has become a blues standard, recorded by many other artists. He made over 500 recordings.


  • Biography 1
  • Discography 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Bibliography 5
  • External links 6


Memphis Slim historic home in Memphis

Memphis Slim's birth name was John Len Chatman, and he was born in Memphis, Tennessee, United States. His father, Peter Chatman sang, played piano and guitar, and operated juke joints,[1] and it is now commonly believed that he took the name to honor his father when he first recorded for Okeh Records in 1940. Although he started performing under the name Memphis Slim later that same year, he continued to publish songs under the name Peter Chatman.

He spent most of the 1930s performing in honky-tonks, dance halls, and gambling joints in West Memphis, Arkansas, and southeast Missouri. He settled in Chicago in 1939, and began teaming with Big Bill Broonzy in clubs soon afterward. In 1940 and 1941 he recorded two songs for Bluebird Records that became part of his repertoire for decades, "Beer Drinking Woman,"[2] and "Grinder Man Blues." These were released under the name "Memphis Slim," given to him by Bluebird's producer, Lester Melrose.[3] 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 Broonzy, who had recruited Slim to be his piano player after Joshua Altheimer's death in 1940.

After World War II, Slim began leading bands that, reflecting the popular appeal of jump-blues, generally included saxophones, bass, drums, and piano. With the decline of blues recording by the majors, Slim worked with the emerging independent labels. Starting in late 1945, he recorded with trios for the small Chicago-based label Hy-Tone.[4] With a lineup of alto saxophone, tenor sax, piano, and string bass (Willie Dixon played the instrument on the first session), he signed with the Miracle label in the fall of 1946. One of the numbers recorded at the first session was the ebullient boogie "Rockin' the House," from which his band would take its name. Slim and the House Rockers recorded mainly for Miracle through 1949, enjoying commercial success. Among the songs they recorded were "Messin' Around" (which reached number one on the R&B charts in 1948) and "Harlem Bound."[5] 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 and recorded with Slim's 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, released in 1949, was originally titled "Nobody Loves Me". It has become famous as "Every Day I Have the Blues." The tune was recorded in 1950 by Lowell Fulson, and subsequently by a raft of artists including B. B. King, Elmore James, T-Bone Walker, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Natalie Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimi Hendrix, Mahalia Jackson, Sarah Vaughan, Carlos Santana, John Mayer and Lou Rawls.[6] Joe Williams recorded it in 1952 for Checker; his remake from 1956 (included in Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings) was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1992.[7]

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. His February 1951 session for Premium saw two changes in the House Rockers' lineup: Slim started using two tenor saxophones instead of the alto and tenor combination, and he made a trial of adding guitarist Ike Perkins. His last session for Premium kept the two-tenor lineup but dispensed with the guitar. During his time with Premium, Slim first recorded his song "Mother Earth".[8]

Slim made just one session for King, but the company bought his Hy-Tone sides in 1948 and acquired his Miracle masters after it failed in 1950. He was never a Chess artist, but Leonard Chess bought most of the Premium masters after the failure.

After a year with Mercury Records, Slim signed with United Records in Chicago;[9] the A&R man, Lew Simpkins, knew him from Miracle and Premium. The timing was propitious, because he had just added Matt "Guitar" Murphy to his group. He remained with United through the end of 1954, when the company began to cut back on blues recording.[10]

Slim's next steady relationship with a record company had to wait until 1958, when he was picked up by Vee-Jay. In 1959 his band, still featuring Matt "Guitar" Murphy, cut LP Memphis Slim at the Gate of the Horn, which featured a lineup of his best known songs, including "Mother Earth," "Gotta Find My Baby," "Rockin' the Blues," "Steppin' Out", and "Slim's Blues."[11]

Slim first appeared outside the United States in 1960, touring with Austin in 1987.

Two years before his death, 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.[12]

Memphis Slim grave

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.[13]

In 1989, he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2015.


Year Title Label
1959 Memphis Slim and the Real Boogie-Woogie Folkways Records
1960 Memphis Slim and the Honky-Tonk Sound Folkways Records
1960 Travelling with the Blues Storyville
1960 Blue This Evening Black Lion
1960 Pete Seeger at the Village Gate with Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon – Vol 1 Folkways Records
1960 Songs of Memphis Slim and "Wee Willie" Dixon Folkways Records
1961 Tribute To Big Bill Broonzy Candid
1961 Steady Rollin' Blues: The Blues Of Memphis Slim OBC
1961 Memphis Slim U.S.A. Candid
1961 Broken Soul Blues Beat Goes On
1961 Alone with My Friends Battle
1961 Chicago Blues: Boogie Woogie and Blues Played and Sung By Memphis Slim Folkways Records
1961 Blues by Jazz Gillum Singing and Playing His Harmonica: With Arbee Stidham and Memphis Slim Folkways Records
1961 No Strain Bluesville
1962 Sonny Boy Williamson & Memphis Slim: In Paris GNP Crescendo
1962 Pete Seeger at the Village Gate with Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon – Vol 2 Folkways Records
1962 Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon at the Village Gate with Pete Seeger Folkways Records
1963 All Kinds of Blues Bluesville
1963 Jazz in Paris: Aux Trois Mailletz Polygram
1964 Clap Your Hands Maison De Blues
1967 Bluesingly Yours Maison De Blues
1968 Lord Have Mercy on Me Maison De Blues
1969 The Bluesman Maison De Blues
1969 Mother Earth One Way Records
1970 The Blue Memphis Suite Maison De Blues
1970 Messin' Around with the Blues: The Very Best Of King
1971 Boogie Woogie Maison De Blues
1971 Born with the Blues Fuel 2000
1971 Blue Memphis Wounded Bird
1972 South Side Reunion: Memphis Slim & Buddy Guy Sunny Side
1972 Old Times, New Times: Memphis Slim with Roosevelt Sykes, Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Barclay
1973 Legacy of the Blues, Vol 7: Memphis Slim Gnp Crescendo
1973 Memphis Slim Storyville
1973 Soul Blues Acrobat Records
1973 Raining the Blues Fantasy
1973 Memphis Slim – Favorite Blues Singers Folkways Records
1973 Very Much Alive and in Montreux Universal International
1975 Going Back To Tennessee Maison De Blues
1981 Rockin' the Blues Charly
1981 Memphis Heat: Canned Heat & Memphis Slim (recorded in 1973) Sunny Side
1981 I'll Just Keep on Singin' the Blues SLG, LLC
1990 Steppin' Out: Live at Ronnie Scotts Castle Music UK
1990 Together Again One More Time/Still Not Ready For Eddie Texas Music Group
1990 Parisian Blues Polygram
1990 The Real Folk Blues Mca
1992 Blues Masters Vol 9: Memphis Slim
1993 London Sessions 1960 Sequel Records UK
1994 The Blues Collection Vol 13: Beer Drinkin' Woman ADD
1994 Lonesome Legacy International
1994 Live at the Hot Club BMG International
1995 Boogie After Midnight Chicago Music Co.
1995 Jazz & Blues collection Edition Atlas
1996 The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1: 1940–1941 (Peter Chatman As Memphis Slim) EPM Musique
1996 Come Back & Other Classics Masters Intercontinental
1996 The Bluebird Recordings, 1940–1941 RCA
1997 Dialogue in Boogie: Memphis Slim & Philippe Lejeune Happy Bird
1998 Lonely Nights Catfish
1998 Very Best of Memphis Slim: The Blues Is Everywhere Collectables
1999 Life Is Like That Charly UK
2000 The Folkways Years, 1959–1973 Smithsonian Folkways
2000 Blues at Midnight Catfish
2000 Memphis Slim at the Gate of the Horn Vee-Jay
2001 The Complete Recordings, Vol. 2: 1946–1948 EPM Musique
2001 Essential Masters Cleopatra
2001 Blue and Lonesome Arpeggio Blues
2001 Ambassador of the Blues Indigo UK
2002 The Complete Recordings, Vol. 3: 1948–1950 EPM Musique
2002 I Am The Blues Prestige Elite
2002 Kansas City Classic World
2002 Boogie for My Friends Black & Blue France
2002 The Come Back Delmark
2002 Blues Legends: Memphis Slim Lead
2003 Three Women Blues
2003 The Complete Recordings, Vol 4: 1951–1952 EPM Musique
2004 Worried Life Blues
2004 Grinder Man Blues Snapper UK
2004 The Best of Memphis Slim Liquid 8
2005 Boogie For 2 Pianos Vol 1: Memphis Slim & Jean-Paul Amouroux
2005 Paris Mississippi Blues Sunny Side
2005 Double-Barreled Boogie: Memphis Slim & Roosvelt Sykes Sunny Side
2006 Forty Years of More Passport Audio
2006 Memphis Suite Sunny Side
2006 Rockin' This House: Chicago Blues Piano 1946–1953 (CDs A&B) JSP Records
2006 The Sonet Blues Story Verve Records
2006 An Introduction to Memphis Slim Fuel 2000
2007 The Ultimate Jazz Archive 14 1940–41 (1 of 4) Carinco AG
2007 Sings the Blues Wnts
2007 Chicago Blues Masters Vol 1: Muddy Waters And Memphis Slim Capitol
2007 Cold Blooded Woman Collectables Records
2008 Greatest Moments Stardust
2008 Four Walls Jukebox Entertainment
2008 Born To Boogie Unlimited Media
2008 Legend of the Blues Wounded Bird Records
2009 Fip Fil and Fim 101 Distribution

See also


  1. ^ Charters, Samuel Barclay. The Legacy of the Blues, Da Capo Press (1977), p. 165 ISBN 0-306-80054-3
  2. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 13.  
  3. ^ Komara, Edward M. Encyclopedia of the Blues, Routledge (2006), p. 689 – ISBN 0-415-92699-8
  4. ^ [7] Archived November 23, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ [8] Archived April 27, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ [9]
  7. ^ "GRAMMY Hall Of Fame". The GRAMMYs. Retrieved January 19, 2015. 
  8. ^ [10] Archived March 10, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ [11]
  10. ^ [12] Archived May 15, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Ron Wynn. "At the Gate of the Horn - Memphis Slim - Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved January 19, 2015. 
  12. ^ "All About Jazz". All About Jazz. Retrieved January 19, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials". Retrieved January 19, 2015. 
  14. ^ "Memphis Slim Discography". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2009-12-13. 
  15. ^ "Memphis Slim Albums". Retrieved 2009-12-13. 


  • Herzhaft (Gerard) - Encyclopedia of the blues. 2nd ed.- Arkansas Press, 1997

External links

  • Music Match Memphis Slim
  • Memphis Slim biography and discography at AllMusic website
  • Memphis Slim discography on Folkways Records
  • Memphis Slim obituary from The New York Times