Living the blues may be an understatement. There is nothing nice about living the blues. When you talk to blues musicians, you can tell which ones actually live the blues by the lines on their faces, the callouses on their hands or the scars found everywhere else. These are the results of years of hard drinking and hard living. Those who show the signs truly live the blues. They stand up there under the hot lights and as the sweat runs down their faces, they play from the soul. There are only a handful of these blues warriors left, and I'm about to tell you about one -- one who comes from real blues blood!
His name is Guitar Slim Jr.
Born Rodney Armstrong, Slim is the son of southern blues legend Eddie "Guitar Slim" Jones, a trailblazer of the electric blues guitar best known for his powerful 1954 rendition of "Things I Used To Do." This, along with other songs he wrote, have been done as covers by an assortment of blues artists including Jimmie Hendrix, Jonny Copeland, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Frank Zappa, to name a few.
Unfortunately, Guitar Slim's recording career lasted only 8 years, and he died in 1959 at the age of 32. His premature death may have robbed the music world of a future great artist, equal to BB King or Ray Charles. He lived hard and burned out fast. But today, from those ashes, a new blues legend has risen -- his son, Guitar Slim Jr., with blues blood flowing hot in his veins.
Slim's early life was a hard one, on the streets, and in a boys home by age 16. One day he recalled, "I was cruising the streets in Orleans and happened by a club where Little Richard was playing. I stood outside and listened to the guitar player and began to cry. My daddy was a guitar player, so I figured its gotta be in my blood." He turned that moment into his obession. "I'm not my daddy -- I do me. My blues come from the heart and go to the soul. When it comes out of the heart and hits the soul, its better than making love."
His obession with the blues paid off in 1988 when Slim was nominated for a grammy in the Best Traditional Blues Recording category for this first album, "The Story of My Life." Although he didn't win the grammy, the nomination boosted his career; and he became a well known name in blues circles.
Currently, Guitar Slim Jr. is blazing his own trail in the music world. With his new release, "Nothing Nice" featuring the Memphis Horsn, Slim cuts new ground while playing some of his father's old pieces on the disk. His gritty guitar sound is punctuated by a curve of sweetness. He has created a style all his own, threading R&B with a dash of soul and a deep twist of blues. The jazz sound is never too far out of reach, reflecting nearly two decades of work in blues clubs all over New Orleans.
On the creation of his newest release, "Nothing Nice," Slim literally bumped into his future producer, Bill Sturgis, one night in New Orleans. President of Warehouse Creek Recording Corporation, Bill Sturgis, tells of his experiences with Guitar Slim Jr. "I met Slim in New Orleans, and he took me on an amazing tour of the back alleys and blues bars. Slim showed me "his" city, and he introduced me to the men who make its music.
We kept in touch, and eventually he visted me on the Eastern Shore of Virginia where Slim had a chance to mellow out a bit. It was on the Shore that Slim was able to sit in on a jam session with the Tams -- and it was then that I realized Slim had to make another recording! From there it was off to Memphis and Sun Studio. The final cut is a great variety of songs that reflect Slim's unique style and his feel for life."
Recorded live in the studio, with only one or two takes and a minimum of overdubs, the songs are recorded the way Slim sounds when performing at a club deep in the gut of New Orleans. Record producer George Wythe Wayne said, "We wanted to make more than a straight blues album. Taking advantage of Slim's soulful vocals was our objective." When referring to the making of "Nothing Nice," Wayne's partner and fellow producer, Art Wheeler, says he felt this experience was like "standing amid living blues mythology."
Guitar Slim Jr. is back and here to stay. He's survived a lot of raodblocks, but now he's in it for the long haul.
by Guitar Slim Jr.
First of all, I thank God for everything. He is the only one I can truly depend on. I would like to thank my three children, Li'l Diane, Rodney, and Rodrick for their love and patience. Thanks to all the wonderful people who believe in me. Billy Sturgis, thanks man! Art Wheeler and George Wayne, thanks for your hard work -- I know it was hard working with me. To the Memphis Horns -- Ya'll are kicking it, man!
To the people who buy this album -- Thanks, and I hope to do more in the future. I feel good about my life right now. There was a whole lot of darkness, but now there is light.
Rodney G. Armstrong
Guitar Slim Jr.
by Billy Sturgis
One of the things I love about New Orleans is that someone can step out of a barroom doorway and change your life. That's what happened the night I met Rodney Armstrong, aka Guitar Slim Jr. I was in New Orleans on tour with a musical group I was promoting, and being unfamiliar with the "Crescent City", Slim offered to be my impromptu tour guide. Although hesitant at times, I followed Slim through the maze of back alleys and was introduced to the real soul of New Orleans -- the men who make it's music. Guitar Slim Jr. is one of those special men.
Son of Eddie Jones, a blues legend, Guitar Slim Jr. grew up on the streets of New Orleans. Slim lives the life that the blues is all about -- that's why his music touches your soul.
When I returned from my trip to New Orleans Slim and I kept in touch. Later, he visited me on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where he came to enjoy a slower, healthier lifestyle. Slim flourished, and so did his music. His local performances were great successes, but there was one special night: Slim joined Joe Pope and the Tams singing Try A Little Tenderness at a party. It was then I realized we had to make a record!
Pulling the recording venture together was a challenge. So I called on George Wythe Wayne, a producer and songwriter, and his partner Art Wheeler whose mastery of blues piano style was custom made for this project. That first week-long session with Slim in New Orleans in September of 1993 was a great start and reinforced our faith in the project.
From New Orleans we went to Memphis and added one of the true sounds of STAX Records, the legendary Memphis Horns. Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love are two of the finest and most talented gentlemen I know, and it was an honor to have them put their special touch on the record. A late night session in Sun Studio finished our time in Memphis.
Back in Virginia, George and Art put the final touches on a well-chosen variety of songs that reflect Slim's unique style and his feel for life. Guitar Slim Jr's Nothing Nice is a mixture of Bourbon Street, Beale Street, and 926 McLemore with sounds reminiscent of Eddie Jones, Stevie Ray Vaughn and others from Motown to Elvis.
I'd like to thank Rodney Armstrong for making this project such a rewarding and enjoyable experience. My eternal thanks to George and Art -- you two are the best! To the ladies of Warehouse Creek, especially the one who arrived December 6, 1994 -- your understanding and love kept this project afloat!
This recording is dedicated to Tom Giddens of The Wandering Four Gospel Quartet, whose lifelong inspiration and encouragement brought this recording to life. "Pops", as Slim calls you, thanks for being there.
Warehouse Creek Recording Corporation
by George Wythe Wayne
My involvement in the Nothing Nice project began when Billy Sturgis sent me a demo of Slim performing one of my songs, Just Out Sunday Driving. Even though we didn't use that song, as I listened to other demos and recordings of Slim, my interest in the project grew. I had known of Slim's father, but this was my first exposure to Slim. When Billy offered me the chance to produce the CD for Slim, I grabbed it. I immediately called my collaborator, Arthur Wheeler, and asked him to work with us.
After arriving in New Orleans, I met Slim for the first time that evening. He immediately wanted to show us "his city". We were in search of a bass player and drummer for the session that started the next day.
We began at the foot of Bourbon Street and hit every club on the way up. Everybody knew Slim. He would jump on stage, do a number with the band, shake hands, and then off we'd go again.
After midnight we caught a taxi to a club in the Treme section. I soon discovered we were on a walking tour from club to club, because each next club was "only a few blocks away"!
I've never been happier than when we caught the cab to come back to the French Quarter; I had survived the initiation.
Despite my reconnaissance mission, the next day we had no bass player or drummer. Fortunately, our engineer Marc Hewitt called Doug Potter (bass) and Jack Burnette (drums), and they were there at the studio within the hour. And they were "there" in the pocket and laying that solid foundation on which everything is built.
As we began to look for a direction in which to take the album, we wanted to feature the rare soulfulness of Slim's vocal style. We knew we wanted to make more than a straight blues album.
About half the songs (including his dad's blues classics) were Slim's selections. Recorded live in the studio with one or two takes and a minimum of overdubs. This is what Slim would sound like performing at a club in New Orleans.
On one of these songs, I Feel So Bad, we felt sure it was a Ray Charles number. We later found out it was written by Chuck Willis. Coincidentally, it was on Slim's father's original sessions that Ray Charles got his first opportunity at arranging. One of those songs, The Things I Used To Do, we re-recorded for this album.
We tried to mix up the styles on the rest of the collection to keep the album fresh. On the other songs, Art would craft a rhythm track with the bass player and drummer. Slim would then sing and play on top of those tracks. Many of these songs were new to Slim. My favorite guitar pieces are on If you Think That Jive Will Do and Oo Wee Baby, I Love You. The grittiness of the former and the sweetness of the latter show the sensitivity of his guitar playing.
We took the liberty on one of our songs, If You Think That Jive Will Do, to push the envelope toward a "pop" sound. Art's infectious keyboard hook accomplished this while still paying homage to the blues, as does Andrew Love's Memphis-soul sax at the end. Slim's shotgun guitar intro makes sure the song starts with a bang.
Once while we were taking a break, I asked the guitar man how he sang with such power and conviction. Slim pointed to the bottom of my foot and said, "It starts here."
While we were recording the vocals on If You Think that Jive Will Do (a trying experience Art refers to as "standing amid living blues mythology"), we had great difficulty getting Mr. Armstrong to learn the words, much to his amusement. To compound the situation, Art wanted to change the second half of the chorus lyrics to "your right,'cause I can't make it without you" from "your right, see, cause I'm crazy about you."
Slim is at the microphone, flanked by Arthur and me, seeming impervious to the dispute. When the moment came, the blues man grinned at me and sang the words that you hear today. Everytime I play that tune, I can hear his laugh in there.
The take-out New Orleans style gumbo brought in nightly from Mother's, was out of this world, but the greatest moment of gastronimical delight came when Wayne Jackson brought his homemade cherry pie to the Memphis session.
The emotional high point of the project also came in Memphis. A chance meeting with Gary Hardy, the owner of Sun Studio, led us to book a session later that night.
Just being in Sun Studio seems unreal. It appears unchanged from those early Elvis photographs there. Out front by the road, there's even one of those metal historical markers, put up by the State to educate the uninitiated.
Back in Virginia, we began our touching up and polishing process. The first thing we did was add tambourine to most of the tracks. Art and I both feel that tambourine is the glue of R&B Music. It adds a sense of life and excitement. Tambourine is like garlic in the hands of a chef - the slightest amount changes the recipe in deep yet subtle ways.
Part of the process of helping to build "the sound" is to fill up any "holes" you may find. We found one such hole during the "I want to tell you bout the changes I put you through" part of If You Think That Jive Will Do. I decided to play a small rhythm guitar part there to help move the passage along. Art also played the slide guitar on The River's Invitation to add drama to the movement of that passage. Those are the only guitar parts on the album not played by the Slim man.
On Our Only Child, we stripped down the original recording to Slim's guitar and vocals and the drums. We rebuilt the song to get what we hoped would be an authentic New Orleans "after hours" feel. Art laid down piano tracks with styles ranging from Walter Davis and Jimmy Yancey to Jelly Roll Morton, a true testament to Mr. Wheeler's piano mastery and versatility. The new arrangement necessitated a new bass line, added with a synth.
It was in Virginia that we crafted most of the piano leads that are featured in many of the songs. But there are many less obvious piano moments, like the huge lefthand chords at the end of Steal Away or the 212 degree piano gumbo on I Feel So Bad.
When Slim sang Steal Away, a first take keeper, we were jumping up and down in the control room with tears in our eyes. It is an incredible vocal performance. So is Try a Little Tenderness. Set against classic jazz piano and introduced with muted trumpet, Rodney soars. In the second verse, listen for the gorgeous glissando as he sings "She-e-e ha-a- as her grief and cares."
When it came time to mix I Want You, we had about five vocal tracks from three different recordings at two different studios. We literally combed through each line assembling what is heard on the final product. That sweet harmony part, "I want you, I want you," was sung once only by Slim. We sampled it and sprinkled it throughout the song.
The guitar on If You Think That Jive Will Do was also assembled from four or five tracks, taking the best track in each session. The solo is two tracks combined. The funky section that cuts in at the end of the sax solo was almost lost. It was on a track by itself, yet fit so perfectly when we rediscovered it. That little Hendrix thing at the end just takes the song out perfectly in the fade.
Besides needing a lot of luck, that kind of mixing is tedious and demanding. Volume and EQ levels must be massaged and "cut-ins" are measured in nanoseconds. We were fortunate to have a top-notch engineer in Robert Ulsh, helping us during the mixing.
Now we come to the part of the essay where I'm suppose to wax poetic, quote great people, and offer up some closing wisdom. Since I'm drawing a blank, I'll just go with the standard fare and perhaps somehow we'll all get an extra 10 minutes of sleep.
Nothing Nice is an experience I will never forget, and I am proud to have been a part of it. I'd like to thank everyone that was involved.
George Wythe Wayne
%Writing River Publishing
P O Box 5063
Glen Allen, VA 23058
released July 1, 1995
** Produced by George Wythe Wayne and Art Wheeler
** Executive Producer: Billy Sturgis, Warehouse Creek Recording Corp.
** Recorded at Sound Services New Orleans, Louisana
** Engineers: Marc Hewitt and Sean Tauzier
** Recorded at Ardent Studios, Memphis, Tennessee
** Engineer: Jeffrey S. Reed
** Recorded at Sun Studio, Memphis, Tennessee
** Engineer: Gary Hardy
** Recorded and Mixed at Master Sound, Virginia Beach, Virginia
** Engineer: Robert Ulsh
** Mixed by Robert Ulsh, George Wayne and Art Wheeler ** Mastered by: Brent Havens, Virginia Beach, Virginia
** Guitar and Vocals: Rodney Armstrong "Guitar Slim Jr." ** Keyboards, Harmonica, Tambourine, Slide Guitar, Horn arangements on If You Think That Jive Will Do and I Want You: Art Wheeler
** Bass: Douglas T.Potter
** Drums: Jack Burnette
** Horns: "The Memphis Horns" Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love
** Rythum Guitar, If You Think That Jive Will Do: George Wayne
** Arrangements By Art Wheeler
** Horns Arranged by: "The Memphis Horns"
** Legal Services: Bert Turner
** Photography: Billy Sturgis
** Album Concept: Billy Sturgis
** Special Thanks to Albertine Armstrong, Arthur Augustus and Carlo Ditta.
** Warehouse Creek on the Internet, courtesy of Irene's House O Fun, Inc.: www.esva.net/~warehouse/
Some rights reserved. Please refer to individual track pages for license info.