One of the most prolific of all blues recording artists, Memphis Slim was never away from the studio for too long after he cut his first records in 1940 for OKeh. Although a sophisticated vocalist with a suave approach, Slim seldom strayed from his deep blues roots when it came to piano playing. Born John L. Chatman (and known also as Peter Chatman) in Memphis on Sept. 3, 1915, Slim left home to ply his trade as a pianist and moved to Chicago in the late 1930s. He recorded in various solo, band, and small combo settings, and when he teamed with Matt “Guitar” Murphy he led one of the prfeeminent blues bands of the 1950s. Among his most notable recordings were “Nobody Loves Me” (an influential version of “Every Day I Have the Blues”), “Mother Earth,” and “The Comeback.” He began touring abroad in 1960 as a duo with Willie Dixon. In 1962 he moved to Paris and became the most successful of the transplanted American bluesmen in Europe, enjoying a long residency at Les Trois Mailletz in Paris and recording album after album on the continent. Proud of his triumphs, Slim drove a Rolls Royce and insisted on the finest quality alcohol and tobacco products for his enjoyment. On return trips to Memphis, he was hailed as a celebrity, and the U.S. Senate even passed resolutions on Dec. 15, 1977, to recognize Memphis as “the home of the blues” and Memphis Slim as “ambassador at large of good will for the United States.” After Slim died in Paris on Feb. 24, 1988, his body was shipped home for burial in Memphis.
— Jim O’Neal