It's not as though Magic Slim is wallowing in obscurity. Any record store that boasts even a nominal selection of blues titles usually stocks at least one of his albums -- albeit often indiscriminately sandwiched between CDs by the late, great Magic Sam. But Slim's music isn't just widely available; it's also widely acknowledged as being among the foremost examples of modern Chicago blues, bearing the same greasy, rough-and-tumble qualities for which its Windy City precursors are famed. Slim's work has been heaped with accolades, including five recent nominations for W.C. Handy Awards, the blues equivalent of the Grammys. Still, Slim (né Morris Holt) never achieved a fame comparable to that of his contemporaries Buddy Guy and Otis Rush. And although Slim might wish it otherwise, that's actually good news for blues fans. Rather than having the luxury of resting on his laurels, Magic Slim has the burden of converting the masses, one fiery club gig at a time.
The Mississippi-born bluesman first came to Chicago in the mid-1950s, but he didn't cut his first records -- a handful of singles on small labels -- until a decade later. It was yet another decade before his recording career began in earnest with a spate of albums on various labels. Since then, his basic sound has remained largely unchanged: a joyously overamplified guitar battling head to head with gruff, no-nonsense vocals while a lock-tight rhythm section swings like a shithouse door. The depth of Slim's live repertoire is legendary. With literally hundreds of songs to choose from, his gigs are known for their improvisational feel. There's rarely a setlist to speak of, just a string of classic blues songs cobbled together by whim and request. Although the "Slim" portion of his stage name has long since given way to a healthy girth, the "Magic" remains. Catch him with his backing band, the Teardrops, while you can.