Finally available again on CD and for the first time on vinyl, Orleans Records has released Guitar Slim Jr.’s seminal album, The Story Of My Life. Nominated for a Grammy Award in 1989, the album sort of disappeared over the years.
I was surprised and delighted to find a copy in my mailbox the other day and I pounced on it. I had only heard a couple of songs off the album over the years and now I have the opportunity to enjoy the album in its entirety.
Guitar Slim Jr, the son of Guitar Slim was born Rodney Glenn Armstrong in the Crescent City, New Orleans. He grew up seeing some of the best blues performers of the day playing with his father. He had already been playing for years before he made this, his debut album in 1988.
The ten tracks on the album contains seven written by his father, and Slim was surrounded by some of the best musicians around including drummers Shannon Powell and Kerry Brown who played for Preservation Hall and Lawrence Cotton and Guitar Slim Sr. respectively; Rene Coman (The Iguanas, Alex Chilton) and Charles Moore (Deacon John and the Ivories) on bass; and pianist Jon Cleary (future Grammy winner and Bonnie Raitt band member). Milton Batiste Jr. (Olympia Brass Band, Professor Longhair and others) played trumpet and arranged the horn charts.
The album starts off with the soulful Trouble Don’t Last. Slim Jr has a great voice and this is one of those songs that gets inside of your heart within the first few notes and doesn’t let go. You can’t escape that New Orleans sound no matter how hard you try. It’s in his DNA, thank God, and this is one of those great songs that just stay with you.
The very quick (under two minutes) Letter To My Girlfriend follows with a nice swing rhythm. It’s the kind of number that warms up an audience quickly, and when it’s done live and the band can jam a little, will get the people up on their feet.
Next up is the title track, The Story Of My Life, a gorgeous ballad in which Slim Jr pours everything he has into the vocals. Even though this was originally done by his father, Jr delivers an amazing rendition. The instrumentation is stripped down to guitar, bass, and drums, and it really makes the song stand out. Slim Jr’s break is strong and the song is a standout.
Bad Luck Blues is just a pure blues song from the opening note. It’s a slow emotional number that is very well delivered. Slim Jr has such a great voice and he’s a hell of a guitar player, it’s a damn shame he hasn’t recorded more albums than he has. It’s no wonder why the album was nominated for Best Traditional Blues Recording (the award that year went to Willie Dixon’s Hidden Charms, so you can’t really fault the voters…)
There’s some funk brewing on the next number, Can I Change My Mind. I just can’t get over how good this album sounds, it’s beautifully recorded – not to mention the great musicianship and Slim Jr’s vocals. I listen to a lot of new albums, and this one just smokes most of them.
Some soaring guitar opens Too Weak To Fight and plays against the horns. It’s not funk, but it is soul blues much in the way Solomon Burke would approach a song. It’s a solid number and one that satisfies…
Next up is the only song on the album that cracks four minutes, Reap What You Sow, a slow, blistering number that beautifully blends Jr’s vocals and guitar. This is one of those songs that I could listen to over and over again. The lyrics are good, the playing is tight, and the delivery is top notch. I have to play this one on Time For The Blues at the first opportunity!
Well, I Done Got Over It is a swinging tune that has some fun with the piano and sax. It’s another quick number, at two-and-a-half minutes it would be a blip on the radio, but it’s good and tight and one that is extremely enjoyable.
Next up is Turn Back The Hands Of Time, with its solid funky bass line and some cool electric piano. It’s a lost love song with some throwback backing vocals. Can I really call them throwback if they were recorded in the late 1980’s? Slim Jr does a credible job covering the song which was a hit for R&B singer Tyrone Davis in 1970.
Slim Jr closes the album with one last song written by his father, Sufferin’ Mind. It’s a terrific rendition of this classic number and he pulls out all the stops on his vocals delivering a great performance. It’s a satisfying way to end the album and it just makes me wish that instead of recording ten songs, he recorded twenty more.
Guitar Slim Jr stays close to home, but can you blame him? He’s always working in and around New Orleans and he really doesn’t need to get out on the road. The Story Of My Life is one of the finest debut albums that I have ever heard, and given the fact that he has been a professional musician for so many years prior to recording it, I am not surprised.
What does surprise me is why it took so long for the album to resurface. I know that there can me a lot of politics in the recording industry, so I’m sure that there are things of which I have no knowledge working behind the scenes. Still, I wish I had found this album earlier, but at least it’s out there now.
If you find yourself intrigued by this great artist, get on over to his little piece of the world wide web at http://www.guitarslimjr.com/Home.html. And if you find yourself in New Orleans be sure to find out where he’s playing and get yourself a seat PDQ.