Magic Slim and the Teardrops – Gravel Road [vinyl reissue]

January 01, 1970

(Blind Pig)


A few years back Blind Pig Records decided to start
re-releasing some of their classic blues albums on 180 gram vinyl, and that was
welcomed news for true blue fans. The blues sound so much richer on the heavy
vinyl. Gravel Road was the first
Blind Pig release by Magic Slim and the Teardrops in 1990. It is an essential
example of the barroom Chicago


Slim, aka Morris Holt, is 72 now. And he is one of the last
of the Mississippi born musicians who followed
millions of blacks north after World War II to settle in cities like Chicago. These musicians
learned their craft in the tiny, working class bars of Chicago’s West and South
Side. The electrified, hard driving blues they would make in those clubs
eventually rocked the world. Holt was in the second wave of musician migrants
who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s. He was given his nickname by his close
friend, the legendary Magic Sam, and his band, the Teardrops, eventually became
the house band at a famous blues club called Theresa’s.


Theresa’s is long gone, as are the great Chicago bluesmen such as Sam, Freddy King and
Luther Allison. But Slim has carried on over the decades, releasing dozens of albums
with his instantly recognizable Teardrops sound. He never abandoned his
origins. One of the things a musician had to do in those tough bars was to play
loud and fast so that people would keep dancing and drinking long into the
night. The emphasis was on tight, ensemble groups. Versatility was also valued since
you were often playing to the same crowd night after night. Slim developed the reputation
for having a bottomless repertoire of songs that he could lead the band into on
a moment’s notice to keep the party moving.


Gravel Road is an
excellent example of West Side Chicago blues at its best. Slim was 54 when the
album was cut, already a veteran of nine albums and decades of playing live,
which gives the album its live, not overproduced sound. This lineup might have
been the best the Teardrops ever fielded. Besides the big man’s brother, Nick,
on bass, the second lead guitar spot was held down by a young John Primer, who
has gone on to have his own excellent solo career. Besides a few Slim
originals, the set is typical of what you might find on a Saturday night during
the glory days of the Chicago
blues. Quick shuffles predominate as do covers of songs made famous by artists
as diverse as Albert King, Otis Redding, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Bo Diddley and
Freddy King.


But Slim dominates the set with his gruff voice and nasty
vibrato guitar licks. He puts the band through a tight workout on songs like
Don Robey’s classic “Further On Up the Road.” And you can imagine a packed bar
screaming the chorus as Slim rolls through Mack Rice’s “Mustang Sally.” The
pace doesn’t slow down until the second song of the second side as Primer takes
over vocals on Percy Mayfield’s “Prisoner of Love.” Much as with Elmore James,
Slim has a signature opening riff that kicks off every one of his shows and has
appeared countless times on record. That riff appears here on Didley’s “Before
You Accuse Me” transforming a blues classic into a Magic Slim and the Teardrops


It is good to have Gravel Road on vinyl. This album is not just an
important historical document about the Chicago
blues; it is just as vibrant and enjoyable today as it was two decades ago. It
still can get people on their feet and partying.


Standout Tracks: “Further
On Up the Road” “Mustang Sally” “Gravel
Road” “Before You Accuse Me”  TOM CALLAHAN 







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