ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON JULY 1, 1999
By Steve Newton
There are few blues guitarists around today who can match the fire and passion of Buddy Guy, but Morris “Magic Slim” Holt is right up there with the best of them.
As can be heard on Magic Slim & the Teardrops’ latest CD, Black Tornado, the 61-year-old musician plays it raw and mean, old-school-Chicago–style, and he’ll be kicking out the jams with a gig at the Yale on Sunday (July 4).
Like Guy, Holt honed his chops playing dangerous Windy City blues dives in the ’60s, but his roots are in Mississippi, where he sang in a church choir as a kid. His first love was the piano, but he switched to guitar after losing the little finger of his right hand in a cotton-gin accident.
When he was 11 years old, Holt became friends with Samuel “Magic Sam” Maghett, the blues hero who, although he died of a heart attack at the age of 32, left a legacy that heavily influenced the likes of Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Maghett helped spread a little magic around by giving Holt his nickname.
“The man was a good man,” recalls Holt, on the line from his home in Lincoln, Nebraska, “and he was a good blues player. And he told me, you know, don’t try to play like him or nobody else. He told me try and get my own style.”
Eschewing your typical electric-blues instrument—the Fender Strat—Holt does his stylin’ with a Fender Jazzmaster. On Black Tornado his slash-and-burn approach is heard on both gutsy originals and choice covers of songs by Hound Dog Taylor (“It’s Alright”) and Muddy Waters (“Still a Fool”).
But when Holt makes his Vancouver debut, there’s no telling what’ll be on the set list, because he doesn’t have one.
“I never know what I’m gonna play until I hit the stage,” he points out. “I don’t write my songs down, I just get ’em as they come to me.”
Holt doesn’t have a favourite tune on Black Tornado (“Well, shucks, I like ’em all, man”), but he seems particularly fond of “Young Man’s Blues”, which was written by his 21-year-old son Shawn, who also sang and played lead guitar on the track.
From the sound of things, the younger Holt is a picker to watch out for, and his dad takes a little credit for showing him a thing or two. But even though his name suggests enchantment, Magic Slim doesn’t believe that there’s any wondrous secret to playing good blues guitar.
“Well, shit, man, all I know is you just gotta play it!”