Memphis Slim

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Memphis Slim
Chatman in 1980
Background information
Birth nameJohn Len Chatman
Also known asPeter Chatman
Born(1915-09-03)September 3, 1915
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
DiedFebruary 24, 1988(1988-02-24) (aged 72)
Paris, France
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • Piano
  • vocals
Years active1930s–1980s

John Len Chatman (September 3, 1915 – February 24, 1988), known professionally as Memphis Slim, was an American blues pianist, singer, and composer.[1] 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.

He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1989.[2]


Memphis Slim historic home in Memphis

Memphis Slim was born John Len Chatman, in Memphis, Tennessee. For his first recordings, for Okeh Records in 1940, he used the name of his father, Peter Chatman (who sang, played piano and guitar, and operated juke joints);[3] it is commonly believed that he did so to honor his father. He started performing under the name "Memphis Slim" later that year but 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.[4] He settled in Chicago in 1939 and began teaming with the guitarist and singer Big Bill Broonzy in clubs soon afterwards.[1] In 1940 and 1941, he recorded two songs for Bluebird Records[5] that became part of his repertoire for decades, "Beer Drinking Woman"[6] and "Grinder Man Blues". These were released under the name "Memphis Slim," given to him by Bluebird's producer, Lester Melrose.[7] 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.[1] Many of Slim's recordings and performances until the mid-1940s were with Broonzy, who had recruited Slim to be his piano player after the death of his accompanist Joshua Altheimer in 1940.[1]

After World War II, Slim began leading bands that generally included saxophones, bass, drums, and piano, reflecting the popular appeal of jump blues. With the decline of blues recording by the major labels, Slim worked with emerging independent labels. Starting in late 1945, he recorded with trios for the small Chicago-based Hy-Tone Records.[8] 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 songs 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, with some commercial success.[1] Among the songs they recorded were "Messin' Around" (which reached number one on the R&B charts in 1948) and "Harlem Bound".[9] In 1947, the day after producing a concert by Slim, Broonzy, and Williamson at New York City's Town Hall, the folklorist Alan Lomax brought the three musicians to the Decca Records studios and recorded with Slim on vocal and piano. Lomax presented sections of this recording on BBC Radio in the early 1950s as a documentary, 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 Records in Cincinnati and Peacock Records 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 song was recorded in 1950 by Lowell Fulson and subsequently by numerous other 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.[10] Joe Williams recorded it in 1952 for Checker Records; his remake from 1956 (included on the album Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings) was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1992.[11]

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 the 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".[12]

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

After a year with Mercury Records, Slim signed with United Records in Chicago;[13] the A&R man, Lew Simpkins, knew him from Miracle and Premium. The timing was propitious, because he had just added the guitarist 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.[14]

After 1954, Slim did not have a steady relationship with a record company until 1958, when he signed with Vee-Jay Records. In 1959 his band, still featuring Murphy, recorded the album 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".[15] In December 1959, Willie Dixon's debut album, Willie's Blues, was released.[16] Memphis Slim was given almost equal credit on the album as Dixon's piano accompanist. Memphis Slim played on all of the tracks, and wrote the two numbers that were not penned by Dixon.[17]

Slim first appeared outside the United States in 1960, touring with Willie Dixon, with whom he returned to Europe in 1962 as a featured artist in the first of the series of American Folk Festival concerts organized by Dixon, which brought many notable blues artists to Europe in the 1960s and 1970s.[1] The duo released several albums together on Folkways Records, including Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon at the Village Gate with Pete Seeger (1962).[18]

In 1962, Slim moved permanently to Paris, and his engaging personality and well-honed presentation of playing, singing, and storytelling about the blues secured his position as one of the most prominent blues artists for nearly three decades.[1] He appeared on television in numerous European countries, acted in several French films and wrote the score for À nous deux France (1970), and performed regularly in Paris, throughout Europe, and on return visits to the United States. In the last years of his life, he teamed up with the respected jazz drummer George Collier. The two toured Europe together and became friends. After Collier died in August 1987, Slim rarely appeared in public, although he reunited with Matt "Guitar" Murphy for a gig at Antone's in Austin, Texas, 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.[19]

Grave of Memphis Slim

Memphis Slim died of renal failure on February 24, 1988, in Paris, at the age of 72.[20][21][22][23][24] He is buried at Galilee Memorial Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee.[25]

He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1989.[2] He was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

Charting singles[edit]

List of charting singles with year, title, label, and chart peak
Year Title
A-side / B-side
Label Chart
1948 "Messin' Around" / "Midnight Jump" Miracle 125 1
1949 "Frisco Bay" / "Timsy's Whimsy" Miracle 132 11
"Blue and Lonesome" / Miracle 136 2
"Help Me Some" 9
"Angel Child" / "Nobody Loves Me" Miracle 145 6
1951 "Mother Earth" / "Really Got the Blues" Premium 867 7
1953 "The Come Back" / "Five O'Clock Blues" United 156 3


Year Title Label
1959 Memphis Slim at the Gate of Horn Vee-Jay
1959 Memphis Slim and the Real Boogie-Woogie Folkways
1960 Memphis Slim and the Honky-Tonk Sound Folkways
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
1960 Songs of Memphis Slim and "Wee Willie" Dixon Folkways
1961 Tribute to Big Bill Broonzy Candid
1961 Steady Rollin' Blues: The Blues of Memphis Slim Bluesville/OBC
1961 Memphis Slim U.S.A. Candid
1961 Broken Soul Blues Beat Goes On/BGO
1961 Chicago Blues: Boogie Woogie and Blues Played and Sung by Memphis Slim Folkways
1961 Blues by Jazz Gillum Singing and Playing His Harmonica with Arbee Stidham and Memphis Slim Folkways
1961 Just Blues Bluesville/OBC
1961 No Strain Bluesville/OBC
1962 Sonny Boy Williamson and Memphis Slim in Paris GNP Crescendo
1962 Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon at the Village Gate with Pete Seeger Folkways
1962 Pete Seeger at the Village Gate with Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon, Vol. 2 Folkways
1962 All Kinds of Blues Bluesville/OBC
1963 Alone with My Friends Battle
1963 Jazz in Paris: Aux Trois Mailletz Polygram
1964 Clap Your Hands Maison De Blues
1965 Fattenin' Frogs for Snakes Melodisc
1967 Legend of the Blues Vol. 1 Jubilee
1967 Bluesingly Yours Maison De Blues
1968 Lord Have Mercy on Me Maison De Blues
1969 The Bluesman (released 1975) Maison De Blues
1969 Mother Earth One Way (originally issued on Buddah Records)
1970 The Blue Memphis Suite Maison de Blues
1970 Messin' Around with the Blues King
1971 Boogie Woogie Maison de Blues
1971 Born with the Blues Fuel 2000
1971 Blue Memphis Wounded Bird (originally issued on Warner Bros.)
1972 South Side Reunion (with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells) Sunny Side (originally issued on Warner Bros.)
1972 Old Times, New Times (with Roosevelt Sykes, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells) Barclay
1973 The Legacy of the Blues Vol. 7 Sonet
1973 Memphis Slim Storyville
1973 Soul Blues Acrobat
1973 Raining the Blues Fantasy
1973 Favorite Blues Singers Folkways
1973 Very Much Alive and in Montreux Universal International
1973 Memphis Heat (with Canned Heat) (released 1974) Blue Star
1975 Going Back to Tennessee Maison de Blues
1981 Rockin' the Blues Charly
1981 I'll Just Keep on Singin' the Blues Muse
1982 Can A White Man Play and Sing the Blues ? Milan
1982 Fip Fil and Fim Milan
1990 Steppin' Out: Live at Ronnie Scotts Castle Music UK
1990 Together Again One More Time (with Matt Guitar Murphy) (2-CD set including Still Not Ready for Eddie by Eddie Taylor) Antone's/Texas Music Group
1990 Parisian Blues Polygram
1990 The Real Folk Blues Chess/MCA
1992 Blues Masters, Vol 9: Memphis Slim Storyville
1992 Pinetop's Boogie Woogie Antone's
1993 London Sessions 1960 Sequel UK
1994 The Blues Collection, Vol. 13: Beer Drinkin' Woman
1994 Lonesome Legacy International
1994 Live at the Hot Club BMG International
1995 Boogie After Midnight Chicago Music
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 (with 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
1999 Memphis Slim at the Gate of the Horn Vee Jay/Charly
2000 The Folkways Years, 1959–1973 Smithsonian Folkways
2000 Blues at Midnight Catfish
2000 Live at Antone's, Vol. 1 Antone's
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 United/Delmark
2002 Blues Legends: Memphis Slim Lead
2003 Three Women Blues Time Wind [Germany]
2003 The Complete Recordings, Vol 4: 1951–1952 EPM Musique
2004 Worried Life Blues Quadromania Klassik [Germany]
2004 Grinder Man Blues Snapper UK
2004 The Best of Memphis Slim Liquid 8
2005 Boogie for Two Pianos, Vol. 1 (with Jean-Paul Amouroux)
2005 Paris Mississippi Blues Sunny Side
2005 Double-Barreled Boogie (with Roosevelt Sykes) Sunny Side
2006 Forty Years of More Passport Audio
2006 Memphis Suite Sunny Side
2006 Rockin' This House: Chicago Blues Piano 1946–1953 JSP Records
2006 The Sonet Blues Story Verve
2006 An Introduction to Memphis Slim Fuel 2000
2007 The Ultimate Jazz Archive 14 (1940–41) Carinco AG
2007 Sings the Blues Wnts
2007 Chicago Blues Masters, Vol. 1 (with Muddy Waters) Capitol
2007 Cold Blooded Woman Collectables
2008 Greatest Moments Stardust
2008 Four Walls Jukebox Entertainment
2008 Born to Boogie Unlimited Media


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Colin Larkin, ed. (1995). The Guinness Who's Who of Blues (Second ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 266. ISBN 0-85112-673-1.
  2. ^ a b "MEMPHIS SLIM". Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  3. ^ Charters, Samuel Barclay. The Legacy of the Blues, Da Capo Press (1977), p. 165. ISBN 0-306-80054-3.
  4. ^ Palmer 1982, p. 174.
  5. ^ Palmer 1982, p. 154.
  6. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 13. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  7. ^ Komara, Edward M. Encyclopedia of the Blues, Routledge (2006), p. 689. ISBN 0-415-92699-8.
  8. ^ "The Hy-Tone Label". Archived from the original on November 23, 2009.
  9. ^ "Miracle Records". Archived from the original on April 27, 2009.
  10. ^ "AllMusic | Record Reviews, Streaming Songs, Genres & Bands". AllMusic.
  11. ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame". Archived from the original on July 7, 2015. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  12. ^ "Premium Records". Archived from the original on March 10, 2009.
  13. ^ "The United and States Labels Part I (1951-1953)". Archived from the original on July 31, 2009.
  14. ^ [1] Archived May 15, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Wynn, Ron. "Memphis Slim, At the Gate of the Horn: Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  16. ^ Stephen Cook (December 3, 1959). "Willie's Blues - Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved January 31, 2014.
  17. ^ Liner notes from BVLP-1003 - original vinyl album
  18. ^ "Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon at the Village Gate with Pete Seeger". Retrieved December 6, 2016.
  19. ^ "All About Jazz". Archived from the original on June 18, 2012. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  20. ^ "Memphis Slim". Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  21. ^ "Memphis Slim: One of the Greatest Blues Pianist, Singers & Composers of All-Time [Video]". May 10, 2018. Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  22. ^ "Memphis Slim - Boogie For My Friends (2002)". Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  23. ^ Shannon, Rebecca (September 3, 2013). "Blondie Cuts a Rug: Memphis Slim". Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  24. ^ "Memphis Slim". Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  25. ^ "Memphis Slim | Memphis Music Hall of Fame". Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  26. ^ Whitburn 1988, pp. 286–287.


External links[edit]