How I Conquered The Stage And The Streets
With Shoestring Sue
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
It certainly has been an interesting life for Clarence Sims, aka Fillmore Slim. Born In Baton Rouge in 1934, Slim lead a normal childhood. His father worked for the L&A Railroad while his mother was employed at a local bank. Catching Guitar Slim at the famous Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans, Slim knew he wanted to be an entertainer so that he could enjoy the flashy clothes, adoring women, and Cadillac cars. Eventually he migrates to San Francisco to live with his sister. He and his friends get busted for auto theft, leading to a stint in a juvenile detention center. Alternating between Los Angeles and San Francisco, he starts singing in clubs and working with a variety of bands and artists, playing some rudimentary piano at times. A trip to Alaska leads to a meeting with T-Bone Walker, who gives Slim some valuable lessons on playing guitar. His first record “You Got The Nerve Of A Brass Monkey,” is released in 1957 on the DooTo label, generating solid interest. While visiting a park with his sister, Slim meets Etta James and Sugar Pie DeSantoB.B. King. Slim becomes Etta’s first boyfriend, cementing their life-long friendship. He even open shows for B.B. King and Dinah Washington.
Then his life gets turned upside down. At a tour stop in Midland, TX, the singer attracts the attention of a woman who happens to be a hooker. She begins to teach Slim about being a pimp, which he soon realized could be a faster way to achieve his goals. The pair head back to San Francisco, where Slim begins recruiting women for his new business enterprise. The book devotes several chapters to how to treat the women working for you, the rules of the game, dealing with the police, and proper etiquette for dealing with other pimps involved in the sporting life. Slim goes into some of the finer points on these subject matters, but when it comes to his woman not meeting expectations, his comment is simply you deal with it, leaving out any details as to how to take corrective action, although later in his narrative he does advocate turning a woman loose if she is disrupting things with the rest of your working girls, no matter how good of an “earner” she might be. Being a pimp is all about the money, so you don’t tolerate anybody who interferes with the flow of cash.
For two decades, Fillmore Slim built his business and achieved his goals of a flashy existence, adoring women, and a Cadillac car. His career as a musician was on hold. In 1979, he went to prison for a five year stretch for a passport violation. He used the time to improve his musical skills. Released early for good behavior, Slim had trouble fitting back in to society. But he soon struck up a friendship with Troyce Key, the owner of Eli’s Mile High club, who also played guitar and keyboards. With Key’s support, Slim revived his career, playing club dates that lead to a full CD release in 1987 on the Mile High label, Born To Sing The Blues. Leaving his pimping days behind, the guitarist focused on his music, releasing six albums in two decades. But a 1999 documentary film, American Pimp, put Fillmore Slim in the spotlight one more time. Time after time, Slim credits the movie for making him famous around the world. No matter where he goes, people always recognize the West Coast Godfather of Pimps.
In the final chapter, co-author “Shoestring” Sue explains that she tried to capture the sound and texture of Slim’s speech pattern while transcribing their lengthy sessions. The book is written in a stream-of-conscious style, with the Godfather bouncing between topics, story to story, as he narrates his life journey. Sue writes words as Slim pronounces them, not as they are spelled, so for example, “with” appears as “wit” throughout the biography. The book is also in need of some serious editing. On page 191, Louis Jordan’s band is listed as the “Tanforan” Five, not the Tympany Five. On Page 198, Slim refers to a festival in New Orleans as the Ponderosa “Star,” which is actually the long-running Ponderosa Stomp. Jim Pugh, mentioned as playing organ on a session on Page 388, somehow becomes “Frank” Pugh on the following page. Some points are covered repeatedly throughout the book, so a good edit would probably have trimmed at lest 50-70 pages without diminishing the book’s impact.
A cultural icon praised by rappers and hip hop artists, plus a down-home blues man who continues to make appearances at clubs and festivals, Clarence “Fillmore Slim” Sims has lived the high life, traveling across America and the world as a pimp and a blues singer. He clearly relishes the high points he experienced, and accepts the low points, like the prison term, as part of bargain you make with yourself when choosing to be a pimp. He celebrates his accomplishments without a hint of remorse or regret, giving this book a refreshing level of honesty that makes it a worthwhile read.