Sunnyland Slim

He was a pivotal figure in postwar Chicago blues and a pianist to many legendary figures of the scene. Sunnyland Slim, Chicago’s beloved piano patriarch, lived a long life that was equal to his formidable, powerful physique. The towering Slim played the ivories in Chicago for more than 50 years. He backed the majority of the studio’s members and was a familiar face to many local celebrities. Born Albert Luandrew, he was trained as a musician on a pump organ. Luandrew moved to Memphis in the late 1920s after entertaining at the Delta’s juke houses and movie houses. He played along Beale Street, and hung out with Ma Rainey and Little Brother Montgomery. His most well-known song, “Sunnyland Train”, was the title of which he took his colorful stage name. The downbeat song immortalized the speed of the St. Louis-to–Memphis locomotive, which killed many people who were unfortunate enough to be caught in its path. In Chicago, Slim set up shop in 1939 as a piano player. He played for a while with John Lee Williamson. After that, he waxed eight sides for RCA Victor under the misleading name of “Doctor Clayton’s Buddy.” Slim’s help was crucial in helping Muddy Waters get onto Chess. It was during Slim’s 1947 session at Aristocrat that Waters made acquaintance with the Chess brothers. Aristocrat, which issued his “Johnson Machine Gun” was just one of the many labels Slim recorded for between 1948-1956: Hytone and Opera, Chance, Mercury, Apollo and Tempo-Tone. Blue Lake, Club 51 and Cobra were all dates Slim cut. His vocals thundered with as much authority as his 88s. His distinctive playing was also a catalyst for hundreds of other artists’ sessions during that time period. Slim made his debut LP in 1960 for Prestige’s Bluesville subsidiary. King Curtis provided the tenor sax break on many of the cuts. Slim’s Shout is his best album. It features definitive versions of “The Devil Is a Busy Man,” Shake It,” Brownskin Woman,” and even “It’s You Baby”. Sunnyland Slim remained strong despite all the changes over the years, much like a tree that has been there for generations. He also managed his own label, Airway Records, for a while. He made a great set for Chicago Jump, the Red Beans logo in 1985. It was backed by the same crack trio that performed every Sunday at the popular North Side club, B.L.U.E.S. For 12 years. Although he did fall ill at times, he never gave up and continued to perform, wailing his Woody Woodpecker choral and performing one more slow blues, just as he had for the past half century. After a terrible fall on the ice while returning from a gig, Sunnyland Slim succumbed to kidney failure in 1995. He will be greatly missed. Allmusic

Leave a Comment