Alabama Slim was born Milton Frazier in Vance, Alabama on March 29, 1939. His father built trains at the Pullman plant and his mother did domestic work to make ends meet. In their home they had an old Victrola turntable and a boxful of 78s. Slim fell in love with the blues of Bill Broonzy and Lightnin’ Hopkins, and that’s where the journey began for the always dapper bluesman, who was poised for a late-in-life breakout in 2020 with a scheduled appearance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
“I met Alabama Slim in New Orleans while visiting bluesman Little Freddie King,” remembers the Music Maker Relief Foundation founder and president, Tim Duffy. “Slim is a towering man, close to seven feet tall. He was well spoken and dressed in an impeccable tailored suit. He told me he was a cousin of Freddie’s and was originally from Vance, Alabama.”
When Duffy asked Slim how he honed his craft, his response was a vibrant timeline of decades past all wrapped into a few sentences. “I grew up listening to the old blues since I was a child. I spent summers with my grandparents who had a farm. Them old folks would get to moanin’ while they worked, and I just started moanin’ with them. That’s where I learned to sing. When I got grown I formed a band and we played little juke joints in the ’50s and ’60s. In ’65, I came to New Orleans after Hurricane Betsy. Got me a job with a moving company and then one making cooking oil. My cousin Freddie King was drinking hard in those days, and I was too. We jammed every once in a while. By the time the ’80s rolled around I was not doing much but Freddie always checked on me. By the ’90s I got myself together and we have been best of friends ever since, tighter than brothers really; there is not a day that goes by when we do not speak or see each other.”
You can hear this in the way the two play together. Bobbing and weaving guitars like a middle-weight title fight, one shakes the trees while the other rakes the leaves. It’s an otherworldly connection really, one rooted in song and making a joyful noise, much deeper than blood or a familial line. The two lived and played music daily in New Orleans up until Katrina’s landfall. In fact, during the storm, Slim rescued his cousin, King, with the two evacuating together.
Slim and Freddie settled into a Dallas apartment complex and spent most of their days working up old and new songs post-Katrina. Freddie's guitar work followed Slim wherever he went vocally. They visited Music Maker in Hillsborough, N.C. that December and together along with some fellow New Orleans musicians cut The Mighty Flood, released in 2007 on the Music Maker imprint. Slim is also featured in the 2019 Music Maker Relief Foundation book Blue Muse and the compilation album of the same name, both of which were critically acclaimed and garnered national media attention.
Now back in New Orleans, the pair has been touring the globe with the Music Maker Relief Foundation’s all-star band, playing Telluride Blues and Brew Festival, Roots N Blues N BBQ, Outdoors at Lincoln Center, even landing a prime slot on the lineup of the duo’s hometown Jazz and Heritage Festival that was sadly cancelled due to the pandemic.
On June 7, 2019, when the world was still like we remember it, Slim, Little Freddie King, and drummer Ardie Dean entered a New Orleans recording studio called the Parlor. The session took merely four hours with Reginald Nicholas at the board and Dean in the producer’s chair. What was tracked is a master class on deep soulful blues. Slim and King’s guitars interweave with Dean’s masterful drumming to create a driving boogie, with Slim’s soothing vocals sprawled out on top, reminiscent of John Lee Hooker. And yes, he sings as well as he dresses … impeccably.
Cornelius Chapel Records teamed up with the Music Maker Relief Foundation for this record, titled The Parlor, to immortalize where it was initially captured. The album was tracked in one-take for a straight-to-tape feel but was captured digitally. Cornelius Chapel brought in Dial Back Sound’s Matt Patton of the Drive-By Truckers and the Dexateens for post-production. He and Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mississippi Blues Legend) sequenced the record and added the perfect amount of bass, organ, and piano so that the other half of DBS, Bronson Tew, could work his audio magic.
The Parlor will be available on January 29, 2021 on vinyl, CD, and all streaming and digital platforms.
The final product is an instant classic, a lesson of perseverance and true grit. One never knows when the proper team can come together to leave their cumulative mark on an age-old genre. Pearl Rachinsky Moreland (Pearl JR) provided the album artwork.
There’s a politically charged, poetic masterpiece titled “Forty Jive” that paints the perfect picture of the past year. The name pretty much says it all. That opening salvo was premiered by American Blues Scene fittingly just before Election Day. Slim’s writing is inspired and stands among the pillars that’ve come before him. His delivery drips in soul — Slim was meant to sing. From opening track “Hot Foot” to the superior low-end sanctum of “Rock Me Baby” his vocal prowess is on full display whether retooling old classics or stomping out new masterpieces, Slim and company deliver the goods. Special guest Little Freddie King takes over lead vocals on “Freddie’s VooDoo Boogie.”
“Who knows how many incredible unrecorded blues artists are out there,” says the Music Maker Relief Foundation’s Tim Duffy. “It is clear that the blues will never die within the community from which it was born, as there are artists that embrace the older musical traditions and are determined to scuffle and hold dear to their blues even if it takes them 50 years to get into a studio.” We couldn’t agree with him more.