Memphis Slim would take the Blues to places it never imagined. He was a prolific author of many enduring classics of the Blues lexicon, including “Mother Earth,” “Everyday I Have the Blues,” and countless others. But as a performer, his everlasting significance was in opening unexpected doors, and letting the music take wing in places where it had never extended. Blues artists had often attained modest levels of popularity, but the bulk of the audience base was essentially derived from the black lower classes. Blues clubs, where common folk let loose at the end of the day, offered music that was ribald and highly suggestive. He was a fabulous keyboard player, an accomplished composer and a soulful vocalist. Like most adept blues pianists, his range goes beyond basic Chicago blues to boogie, jump blues and R&B flavors.
Whether it was the 30’s, 40’s, even the 50’s, Blues tended to be isolated from larger society, Memphis Slim changed all that, especially in the aftermath of settling in Europe in 1963, living in France until his 1988 death. He proceeded to bring a brisk air of sophistication and polish to a rough-hewn art form, developing a presentation that was conducive to concert hall environs. He was a pioneer in this regard, realizing that Blues could only capture the imagination of a mass audience if it was presented with stylishness and refinement. Yet he never compromised the integrity of the music, its core grittiness and honesty was fully maintained. Peter 'Memphis Slim' Chatman went on to become the toast of the Continent.
Memphis Slim's fascinating story begins in Memphis in 1915, and sometime in the 1930’s he settled in Chicago and began displaying his considerable piano skills, landing his first record deal with Okeh in 1939. The first of many labels he recorded for over the next 50 years. Roosevelt Sykes was Slim’s mentor, but Slim never imitated him. He took Bill Broonzy’s advice and developed his own style, characterized by a forceful delivery from burnished vocals while his keyboard work was equally dominating. In 1947, he recorded for the Miracle label backed by his band The House Rockers. Some of the classics included “Lend Me Your Love,” “ Rockin’ The House,” Messin’ Around,” “Blue and Lonesome,” and “Nobody Loves Me” (better known by subsequent covers by Lowell Fulson, BB King, and Joe Williams as Everyday I Have The Blues).
The first of several versions of “Mother Earth,” was heard circa 1950 on the Premium label. He had a very fertile stay on the United label from 1952-54, while also acquiring guitarist in Matt 'Guitar' Murphy. He did “At the Gate of Horn,” a superb date for Vee Jay in 1959. This session had everything: super piano solos, a strong lineup of horn players, clever, well-written and sung lyrics, and a seamless pace that kept things moving briskly from beginning to end.