Born John Len "Peter" Chatman, 3 September 1915, Memphis, Tennessee
Died 24 February 1988, Paris, France

Vocalist / pianist / organist / songwriter.

One of the most popular performers of the blues idiom, Memphis Slim combined the barrelhouse / boogie woogie piano style of the pre-war era with a sophisticated vocal intonation. He was born into a musical home in Memphis, where his father Peter Chatman sang, played piano and guitar and operated juke joints. Slim was born John Chatman, but later called himself Peter Chatman, as a nod to his father. A self-taught pianist, Chatman was influenced by his mentor, boogie woogie bluesman Roosevelt Sykes. He started his musical career in the clubs of Memphis, but relocated to Chicago in 1937, where he frequently performed with folk-blues guitarist Big Bill Broonzy. Chatman made his first record for OKeh in 1939 and switched to the RCA subsidiary Bluebird the next year. It was there that producer Lester Melrose changed his name to Memphis Slim, though Slim kept using the name Peter Chatman for his composer's credits. Among his best known Bluebird recordings are "Beer Drinking Woman" and "Grinder Man Blues". Slim quit accompanying Big Bill Broonzy in 1944 and formed his own band, the House Rockers, a seven-piece band including a sax section.

After World War II he joined Hy-Tone Records, cutting eight tracks that were later picked up by King. In 1946 Slim moved to Lee Egalnick's Miracle label, for which he made some of his best recordings, such as "Rockin' the House", "Lend Me Your Love" and "Nobody Loves Me". The latter wasn't a hit for Slim, but several artists later scored with the song (under the title "Everyday I Have the Blues"), including Lowell Fulson (# 3, 1950) and B.B. King (# 8, 1955). Slim's first chart entry came in 1948 and a big one at that. "Messin' Around" topped the R&B lists for two weeks during an 18- week chart run. Four more hits on Miracle followed in 1949, the biggest of which was "Blue And Lonesome" (# 2). During the 1950s Slim recorded for a wide variety of labels, including Mercury, Peacock, Chess, United and Vee-Jay. His final two chart entries were "Mother Earth" (# 7, Premium, 1951) and "The Come Back" (# 3, United, 1953).

The addition of Matt Murphy as permanent guitarist to Slim's band in 1952 made a significant difference to his records. Now, as well as the riffing saxes, there was the constant complementary melodic counterpoint to Slim's vocals. Times were changing. Recording opportunities became rarer when rock and roll moved public taste away from the blues. Slim did not record from mid-1955 until January 1958. By the end of the 1950s white folks were becoming aware of the blues, but it was presented to them in a compromised manner, nothing too raucous. Slim was quick to pick up on this development and gave the audience what it expected. In April 1959 he made a succesful appearance at Carnegie Hall with Muddy Waters and received a standing ovation during the Newport Folk Festival in July. During 1960 Slim made no less than eleven albums, three in London in July and two in Copenhagen in August (during a European tour with Willie Dixon), mostly solo but with an occasional accompanist.

Sometime in 1961 he cut his last commercial session with a band for the small Strand label in Chicago. In 1962 he moved to Paris, France, where he was revered and respected in a way that he was denied back in the States. He married Christine Freys, the daughter of a Parisian night club owner, performed at major European festivals and blues venues, and also ran his own blues venue in Paris, the Memphis Melodies Club. Recording and touring possibilities seemed limitless in Europe.

In 1978, Slim was named America's official "Ambassador of the Blues" by California senator Hayakawa, while the French government bestowed him with the prestigious title of Commander of Arts and Letters. Memphis Slim remained in Paris until his death, enjoying his status as expatriate blues royalty. He died there of kidney failure on February 24, 1988 and was brought home to Memphis on March 4 for burial next to his father in Galilee Memorial Gardens Cemetery. The occasion was proclaimed Memphis Slim Tribute Day by the mayor, and flags were flown at half staff.

In 1989 he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame. The next year his album "Memphis Blues : The Paris Sessions" was nominated for a Grammy.

More info :

Recommended listening:
There is an abundance of Memphis Slim CD's on the market. Two recent additions, attractively priced, are :
- Rockin' the House : The Best of the R&B Years (Fantastic Voyage FVDD 151, released 2012). 50 tracks from 1946-1961 on two CD's. Annotated by Neil Slaven.
- Boogie After Midnight (Not Now, 2012). 44 tracks on 2 CD's. Only the first five tracks overlap with the compilation above.
- The Bluebird Recordings 1940-1941 (RCA 07863 66720 2). 23 tracks. Released 1997. Probably out of print.
- Memphis Slim at the Gate of Horn (Charly, 2000). Reissue of a 1959 Vee-Jay album.
- The Folkway Years, 1959-1973 (Smithsonian Folkways). 21 tracks.

Acknowledgements : Neil Slaven, Bill Dahl, Wikipedia.

YouTube :
Rockin' the House (1946) :
Slim's Boogie (1946) :
Lend Me Your Love (1946) :
Everyday I Have the Blues :
Beer Drinking Woman :
Grinder Man Blues :
Mother Earth :
Wish Me Well (live) :
We're Gonna Rock :

Dik, December 2012

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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