Fillmore Slim – Son Of The Seven Sisters
Self-Release – 2019
13 tracks; 63 minutes
Clarence Sims was born in Louisiana in 1934 and has been performing as Fillmore Slim since the 1950’s. His musical style mixes a host of influences, from New Orleans to the West Coast and also embraces funk and rap; indeed, in 2017 he was given the title of ‘The Godfather Of Hip Hop’ at the West Coast Hip Hop Awards! He was Etta James’ first boyfriend and claims Rick Estrin and Joe Louis Walker as his ‘godsons’ as they played in a band called Smoke & Fire when both were under age! He abandoned playing music for several years while involved in some colorful (and dubious) activities which are detailed in the 2017 memoir Blues Man Mack: How I Conquered The Stage & The Streets.
After returning to music he issued eight albums between 1987 and 2011 but Son Of The Seven Sisters is his first release since then. Recorded, like so many albums these days, at Greaseland with Kid Andersen and Rick Estrin producing, a large cast of musicians was involved in the recordings: Kid Andersen, Bob Welsh, AC Myles and Angelo J Rossi on guitar; Kid, Bob and Robby Yamilov on bass; Alex Pettersen and Jon Otis on drums; Jim Pugh, Lorenzo Farrell and Sid Morris on keys; Rick Estrin plays harp on five tracks and horns appear on five tracks, Sax Gordon and Michael Peloquin on sax, Jeff Lewis and John Halbleib on trumpet and Mike Rinta on trombone. Backing vocalists include Lisa Leuschner Andersen, Courtney Knott and Billy Price and Diva Ladee Chico is featured twice. Eagle-eyed readers will recognise many of those names and, in particular, the presence of all members of Rick Estrin & The Nightcats at the time of the recordings. Apart from two covers all the material is credited to Slim.
The title track opens proceedings with the story of the Seven Sisters, a group of women who allegedly practised voodoo across the river from New Orleans in Algiers. The spooky atmosphere generated by Rick’s echoey harp and sound effects courtesy of Diva Ladee Chico suits the subject matter and we get our first experience of Slim’s semi-spoken, semi-sung style and you can appreciate why he has been sampled by so many rappers. The comical “Broke Baby” finds Slim and Rick out on the town and both appear to have left their wallets behind so approach a young lady for help – and are surprised that she seems reluctant to hand over money! The autobiographical “I’m A Playboy” has a good horn arrangement with rhythm guitar and clavinet giving the rhythm a very funky 80’s feel. “Jody Must Be In My Business” is a slower, stripped back number with piano and organ providing a late night feel as Diva Ladee Chico and Slim share the vocals about the familiar tale of the back door man AKA ‘Jody’.
Several songs are extended and on two of these Slim’s rap influence really shows: on “Rock Star” Slim namechecks several of the greats (giving Kid the chance to imitate the guitar styles of BB King, Albert Collins, Freddie King and Chuck Berry, amongst others), the very repetitive “I’m A Bad Brotha Foya” outstays its welcome at well over six minutes and “Mary Sue” is a stripped-back blues with Rick’s harp prominent.
Some of the shorter cuts work rather better:“Emma Lou, Queen Of The Homeless” is a mid-paced shuffle with plenty of piano and good slide by Kid; the appropriately horn-heavy track entitled “Dedicated To Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson” also has some fine picking by Kid; “Fast Gun Annie” has a touch of country (Kid plays banjo and Slim does some yodelling on this one!) while another autobiographical song “Legend In My Own Time” returns to the semi-spoken style in a small band format with Rick’s harp again outstanding.
The two covers are both proper blues. Although written by Stax stalwarts Booker T Jones, David Porter and Isaac Hayes and performed by Little Johnny Taylor, “Little Bluebird” has always been a blues and here Slim sings it well with Kid’s guitar and Lorenzo’s electric piano; Little Walter’s “Last Night” is nicely handled with Rick taking the harp role over Jim Pugh’s excellent piano work, Slim adding a rap towards the end of the familiar song.
Although you can hear evidence of the aging process in Slim’s vocals, he acquits himself well across these sides and covers straight blues alongside funk, New Orleans styles and rap/spoken elements also. As is always the case with Kid Andersen’s recordings the playing is excellent and provides a variety of settings for Fillmore Slim to show us his talents.