Music » Rhythm Section: by Alison Fensterstock

It's Hard Out There For a Pimp

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The Lord must want to keep me around for something because all my friends are dead."

Approaching 75, Fillmore Slim " the infamous pimp, documentary subject (American Pimp) and blues singer " is definitely still around, and he wants you to know he's not running out of steam anytime soon. The 1999 documentary, which profiled him alongside many other players in the flashy and fascinating flesh trade, gave a welcome kick in the pants to a musical career that, as Slim tells it, a 30-year-plus career in the game just put on hold for a little while.

Pimping found Slim during a gig in Midland, Texas, when he was just 19. When a woman about his own age started coming to his show night after night and gave him money, the teenage guitarist didn't know what to make of it, but he learned fast.

'She gave me all this money, more than I ever had," he says. 'We were making 12, maybe 13 dollars a night each. And she kept on showing up. I didn't know about no hookers. I knew every night she'd show up and give me some money, and I kept this from my band members." Slim brought the self-starter back to Los Angeles with him, where she went straight to work.

'Then one night, she brought another girl home, and I had two girls. So I put the guitar up for awhile, and I bought me a suit and a hat and a diamond ring. And I was led into the game."

Born in New Orleans, Slim grew up on Willow Street near Jackson Avenue in the '40s and early '50s.

'The first song I learned was "Lawdy Miss Clawdy' by Lloyd Price," he says. 'The next was "Goin' Home' by Fats Domino. I hung out around the Dew Drop Inn and the Pelican Club. I couldn't go in, but I peeped in there and saw Guitar Slim, Earl King and lots of cats." Slim sang the blues he learned from records and the radio for his father's friends as they sat on the front porch drinking home-brewed whiskey, occasionally giving the young boy 50 cents for his performance. He also rode along on the fruit and vegetable peddler's truck as it cruised through the neighborhoods, singing out his wares to draw shoppers from their homes " which he references on the song 'Vegetable Man" from his 2007 record The Legend of Fillmore Slim. It's a shambling, funky blues tune with a second-line beat that Slim opens with a warning to the band: 'Don't make it too pretty, now " this is New Orleans funk. Don't take us to Paris. Leave us in New Orleans." (For the record, Slim has been to Paris. 'I was in France, and this French couple came up and said, "Monsieur, we want you to sign our CD. We know who you are " you're Fillmore Slim from American Pimp.'")

'There was a lot of music in Louisiana around that time," Slim concedes. 'But I wanted to leave. I wanted to see things. I had people in California, and [in New Orleans] they were threatening to send me to reform school, so I had to leave. I was kind of bad in those mischievous days."

Slim moved to Los Angeles, going back and forth between New Orleans and the West Coast several times before finally settling in the San Francisco district that gave him his nickname. He played guitar in the local clubs and cut several records, including 'You've Got the Nerve of a Brass Monkey," probably his most well-known song, in 1959. He even wound up in a living situation that seems ironic now, given the career that lay ahead.

'There was a guy named Fullbright, a promoter, who handled a lot of musicians. He had a big house we all stayed at, OK? And when there was no gigs, we had to do chores around the house. Anything gone wrong, we had to do that job. Fix the sink, everything." When the chance came up to get away from that indenture " a tour on a bill with Joe Tex and Little Willie John " Slim jumped at the chance and soon wound up at that fateful gig in Midland.

'B.B. King had a Cadillac. Lloyd Price had a Cadillac," Slim remembers. 'I wanted to have a Cadillac. I tried to play for it, sing for it, but I wasn't getting it fast enough. I got in the game and got a Cadillac right away."

Ponderosa Stomp founder Dr. Ike Padnos (left) will interview Fillmore Slim at Ogden After Hours.
  • Ponderosa Stomp founder Dr. Ike Padnos (left) will interview Fillmore Slim at Ogden After Hours.

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