Sunnyland Slim was one of the key figures in Chicago blues history, one who became a legend long before he died but who really never became a star. The pianist had a prolific recording career that spanned almost 50 years, from the 78rpm on into the digital age. His playing exemplified Chicago blues piano in its combination of percussive attack, rolling, cascading streams of notes, and syncopated rhythmic sophistication.
Albert Luandrew (Sunnyland Slim) was born on a farm in Vance, Mississippi on September 5, 1907. He worked on the farm from earliest childhood and, in the evenings, taught himself piano and organ. Though his father was a preacher, he listened to the blues at every opportunity. The Mississippi musicians he heard were the first generation of bluesmen, players who were there when the blues were being formed at the turn of the century. By the time Albert was eleven, he was already playing parties and barrelhouses whenever he could slip away. He had his first steady gig at Hot Shot's Club in Vance when he was 15. For the next three years he drifted around the South, working joints and house parties. Around this time he picked up the name Sunnyland Slim because he always sang Sunnyland Train, an early blues favorite.
In 1925 he made Memphis his home base. For the next seventeen years, he toured the South and played Memphis clubs such as Pee Wee's and the Hole in the Wall. He often played with other blues greats of his and the preceding generation, including Sonny Boy Williamson, Memphis Slim, Blind Boy Fuller, Roosevelt Sykes, Little Brother Montgomery, Blind Blake and Ma Rainey's Arkansas Swift Foot Revue.
In 1942, he moved to Chicago. Soon he was in demand with the earliest urban blues bands, the pioneers of the electric blues such as Tampa Red, Jump Jackson, Little Walter and Muddy Waters. He first recorded with Jump Jackson in 1946, and then started leading his own recording dates in 1947. In total, he appeared on more than 40 records and wrote nearly 60 blues originals, many of which became standards.
Sunnyland toured Europe and the U.S.S.R., as well as blues festivals throughout the U.S. and Canada. He did major tours with both Otis Rush and Howlin' Wolf, and continued to make concert appearances until his death at 88, in 1995.
Over the years, Sunnyland became one of the pillars of Chicago blues, both because his "roots" style of piano playing influenced so many great bluesmen, including Walter Horton, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Mose Allison, and because he helped so many young blues players get a start.