Across the street from the conflagration sat the notorious Golden Leaf Hotel where Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones would find a crash pad when he landed in New Orleans a half-century later.
In 1948, a 15 year-old Jones had the good fortune of showing up at a cotton farm in Lake Village, Arkansas looking for work where a tractor-driving bluesman named Willie D. Warren would soon take him under his wing.
After a long week of field labor, the farm hands would throw raucous wang dang doodles where they’d drink port wine, play battered old guitars, fifes and drums – and blow off steam by dancing or trading tall tales.
Jones was the best buckjumper of the lot but he did not play guitar. That would change.
Soon enough, Willie D. Warren put a guitar in his hands, and showed him a few chords. The future rock n roll wild man was entranced, and under the tutelage of Warren proved to be a “quick study.” It didn’t take him long to realize that working in the cotton fields was a dead end of raw hands, and dreams delayed or eventually forgotten.
He bought a guitar from a friend who was on the lam from the law for a murder rap, and worked one last shift at a cotton press that paid cash money for a day’s labor. The next morning he got on a bus for New Orleans.
Jones arrived in southeast Louisiana in 1950.
Nine years later he would die in New York City at just 32 years of age.
But that one decade burned bright for a Mississippi farm boy.
Jones’s star-turn in the spotlight must have seemed surreal for a young man whose mama died when he was five, and who never knew his daddy.
In the world of live music venues, Oscar Bolden’s Club Tiajuana was the downmarket little sister to the more upscale Dewdrop Inn.
Robert Parker led the house band there, and after noticing Jones starting to draw crowds to a po boy shop where he was performing, he suggested that Mr. Oscar start booking Slim. Oscar agreed and also gave Slim a room to crash in at the Golden Leaf.
A street once given to unimaginable violence was now the host of a social place where people could relieve themselves of the workaday world, and share fellowship over cheap cocktails and loud music.
A musician in mid-century New Orleans had to have a day gig to keep beans and greens on the table. Slim was also working at a sausage factory in Arabi. “He was making weenies” laughs old friend and fellow musician Bill Sinegal.
After a year-long run at the Tiajuana, Jones found himself booked at the shiny diamond of the New Orleans chitlin circuit, the Dewdrop Inn. His run started on Saturday, August 26, 1950.
He also secured the services of Percy Stovall, a promoter of some renown who booked R&B stars all over the Gulf Coast.
Jones’s outfit was white hot with Huey Smith on piano and Oscar Moore on drums, and before long the trio was packing the room on Lasalle Street. Soon enough the record labels came calling, and Slim got a tryout with Imperial artists and repertoire man Dave Bartholomew who signed the guitar-slinger on the spot.Eddie ‘Guitar Slim’ Jones ventured downriver to J&M Studios where he laid down four tracks: Bad Luck is on Me, New Arrival, Standing at the Station, and Crying in the Morning, the first two cuts dropped under the moniker Eddie Jones and his Playboys, and the latter two were released as music from Eddie ‘Guitar Slim’ Jones.
Unfortunately, Jones’s dynamic stage personality was not captured on record, and the singles sank without a trace.
After a cup of coffee with J-B Records in Nashville, Eddie went back into the studio, this time for a session at J&M Studios in New Orleans with Art Rupe’s Specialty label.
It was October of 1953, and rock n roll history was about to be made.
Eddie Jones had told his buddy Earl King that Lucifer and an angel had both come to him in a dream with each offering a song for the man. He could only choose one. Any Mississippi bluesman worth his salt will always get in league with the Devil when he has the chance. He chose the work of Old Scratch.
Guitar Slim started getting gin drunk on the ride to the studio, and by the time he showed up at Cosimo Matasas’ spot on Rampart Street he was fairly lit. Meanwhile, Johnny Vincent, Specialty’s talent scout was bailing a young, unknown pianist named Ray Charles out of jail so he could take part in the session.
After a full day and night of recording, and about “30 takes” The Things That I Used to Do was in the can. That’s Ray hollering Yeah! in the final second of the tune. It was an exhortation of relief as young Ray had ran and produced the marathon session.
The cut is one of the most famous songs to ever come out of New Orleans, and it would go straight to the top of the R&B charts where it would stay for 14 weeks. Every guitar player from Frank Zappa to Billy Gibbons points towards Jones as being the progenitor of rock n roll guitar.
Guitar Slim’s performances are still spoken of in reverent terms some 60 years later. He loved scaling up on to the roofs of clubs or taking the party into the street – all the while wailing out white hot solos and feedback drenched licks accomplished by plugging his Gibson gold top guitar straight into the public address system.
Art Rupe bought the young superstar a shiny new Cadillac, and Slim promptly crashed it into a bulldozer parked on a side street in Central City. It nearly killed him. By now Eddie Jones had ditched Percy Stovall and hired Frank Painia, the owner of Dew Drop, to handle his management. With a hot record at the top of the charts Frank subbed Earl King in for the injured Slim and sent him on the road.
Nobody was the wiser. Nowadays the smartphone set would tweet firestorms if anyone was dumb or bold enough to try the same trick.
Once Eddie healed up he hit the open road with a brand new backing unit that saw packed houses from coast to coast. He repeatedly revisited the studio but would not come close to matching the runaway success of his session with Ray Charles.
By February of 1958 Eddie ‘Guitar Slim’ was nearly dissipated. He traveled to New York to record two songs for Atlantic Records When There’s No Way Out and If I Had My Life To Live Over and set out for a regional tour.
After a curtailed performance in Rochester, the group set up in Newark the following night but Slim collapsed after the show. Slim’s band drove the ailing frontman to New York City where Lloyd Lambert, his bass player, convinced a valet to take the guitarist to a doctor across the way while he checked the band into the Cecil Hotel.
By the time Lambert got to the hotel desk a phone call was waiting: Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones was dead. Lambert was shocked
I didn’t believe it because I’d seen him not five minutes before. We got in the station wagon and drove ’round the corner to the doctor’s. But sure enough Slim was laying up on the table gone.
Just the month before his old friend died Earl King went to Jones’s last gig in New Orleans where the bluesman said:
Earl, all the wrong things I’ve been thinking
All the liquor I been drinking
My body’s slowly sinking
Slim died penniless. His old friend Hosea Hill, an entrepreneur who owned the Sugar Bowl nightclub in Thibodaux, Louisiana paid for the musician’s body to be shipped home.
Slim was a guy who never took care of himself. He would get his uniform (stage clothes) wringing wet and then go outside in the cold. That’s how he got sick. Pneumonia and port wine killed Slim.
Thurston Hill, Hosea’s son.
Eddie ‘Guitar Slim’ Jones was given a proper sendoff at Mt Zion Baptist Church in Thibodaux. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth by a group of women each of whom claimed to be Slim’s wife.
“In the front pews of the church were five or six women and a bunch of kids.” “They was all fussing. The women all claimed Slim was their husband and the daddy of their children.” Hosea called all the women to the back of the church and said, ‘Ladies, the undertaker hasn’t been paid yet and he needs some money from Slim’s wife or he can’t bury him.’
The room went quiet and the ladies toddled off.
b. December 10, 1926
d. February 7, 1959
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