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Michael Frank, CEO
Earwig Music Company, Inc.
2054 W. Farwell Ave.
Chicago, IL 60645
office phone 773-262-0278
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born September 5, 1906 - died March 17, 1995
Exhibiting truly amazing longevity that was commensurate with his powerful, imposing physical build, Sunnyland Slim’s
status as a beloved Chicago piano patriarch endured long after most of his peers had perished. For more than 50 years, the towering Sunnyland had rumbled the ivories around the Windy City, playing with virtually every local luminary imaginable and backing the great majority in the studio at one time or another.
He was born Albert Luandrew in Mississippi and received his early training on a pump organ. After entertaining at juke joints and movie houses in the Delta, Luandrew made Memphis his homebase during the late ’20s, playing along Beale Street and hanging out with the likes of Little Brother Montgomery and Ma Rainey.
He adopted his colorful stage name from the title of one of his best-known songs, the mournful “Sunnyland Train.” (The downbeat piece immortalized the speed and deadly power of a St. Louis-to-Memphis locomotive that mowed down numerous people unfortunate enough to cross its tracks at the wrong instant.)
Slim moved to Chicago in 1939 and set up shop as an in-demand piano man, playing for a spell with John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson before waxing eight sides for RCA Victor in 1947 under the somewhat misleading handle of “Doctor Clayton’s Buddy.” If it hadn’t been for the helpful Sunnyland, Muddy Waters may not have found his way onto Chess; it was at the pianist’s 1947 session for Aristocrat that the Chess brothers made Waters’s acquaintance.
Aristocrat (which issued his harrowing “Johnson Machine Gun”) was but one of a myriad of labels that Sunnyland recorded for between 1948 and 1956: Hytone, Opera, Chance, Tempo-Tone, Mercury, Apollo, JOB, Regal, Vee-Jay (unissued), Blue Lake, Club 51, and Cobra all cut dates on Slim, whose vocals thundered with the same resonant authority as his 88s. In addition, his distinctive playing enlivened hundreds of sessions by other artists during the same timeframe.
In 1960, Sunnyland Slim traveled to Englewood Cliffs, NJ, to cut his debut LP for Prestige’s Bluesville subsidiary with King Curtis supplying diamond-hard tenor sax breaks on many cuts. The album, Slim’s Shout, ranks as one of his finest, with definitive renditions of the pianist’s “The Devil Is a Busy Man,” “Shake It,” “Brownskin Woman,” and “It’s You Baby.”
Like a deep-rooted tree, Sunnyland Slim persevered despite the passing decades. For a time, he helmed his own label, Airway Records. As late as 1985, he made a fine set for the Red Beans logo, Chicago Jump, backed by the same crack combo that shared the stage with him every Sunday evening at a popular North side club called B.L.U.E.S. for some 12 years.
Sunnyland was considered by many younger musicians as the patriarch of Chicago blues. He hired many musicians who went on to successful careers after their tie in his band. His 2 Airway albums reissued by Earwig, feature Bonnie Lee, Big Time Sarah and Zora Young, all of whom got their start in his band. Sunnyland was a great bandleader too, with a knack for hiring great guitarists and other backing musicians. His Airway albums feature Hubert Sumlin, Eddie Taylor, Magic Slim, Byther Smith and Lurrie Bell on guitar and Bob Stroger on bass.
There were times when the pianist fell seriously ill, but he always defied the odds and returned to action, warbling his trademark Woody Woodpecker chortle and kicking off one more exultant slow blues as he had done for the previous half century.
Sunnyland Slim encouraged Earwig owner Michael Frank in 1988 to record Willie Johnson, Holwin' Wolf's lead guitarist in the early 1950s, because Willie wanted to come out of retirement. Slim played on that Earwig session, as well as on other Earwig sessions by Honeyboy Edwards (1990) and Lester Davenport (1992). Also in 1988, Sunnyland sold his Airway masters to Earwig.
Sunnyland Slim died of kidney failure in 1995 in Chicago. He’s sorely missed.
Written by Bill Dahl and Michael Frank
November 10, 1998
Tracks 12,13 recorded December 1971
Sunnyland Slim - piano and vocals, Eddie Taylor and Hubert Sumlin - guitars, Odell Campbell - bass, Willie Williams - drums, Mack Simmons - harmonica
Tracks 1,2,6,7 recorded March 2, 1974
Sunnyland Slim - piano and vocals, Bonnie Lee - background vocals 1, lead vocals 2,6, Byther Smith - lead guitar & background vocals,
Alan Hightman rhythm & slide guitar, Tom Patterson - bass, Sam Lay - drums
Tracks 3,11 recorded August 17, 1977
Sunnyland Slim - piano, Big Time Sarah Streeter - lead vocals, Magic Slim (Morris Holt) - guitar, Nick Holt - bass, Mickey Martin - drums
Tracks 4,14 recorded January 1978
Sunnyland Slim - piano, Big Time Sarah Streeter - lead vocals, Lurrie Bell - guitar, John Riley - bass, Hassan Miah - drums, Beau Bailey - trombone
Tracks 8,10 recorded June 8, 1979
Sunnyland Slim - piano, Floyd Jones - vocals 10 & bass 8,10, Kansas City Red (Arthur Lee Stevenson) - vocals 8 & drums 8,10, David Honeyboy Edwards - guitar 8,10
Tracks 5,9 probably recorded January 7, 1983
Sunnyland Slim - piano, Zora Young - lead vocals, Eddie Taylor - guitar, Bob Stroger - bass, Fred Grady - drums, Sam Burckhardt - saxophone
Reissue produced by Michael Robert Frank
© P 1998 Earwig Music Company, Inc.
Re-recording, sound restoration, editing and mastering by Blaise Barton
All recordings were produced by Sunnyland Slim (Albert Luandrew) and originally released on his Airway label,
except Goin' Down Slow and Darling, Yes, I Love You, which were previously unreleased recordings from Earwig's 1979 session Old Friends
Front cover photo by James Barnett
Bonnie Lee photo by James Fraher
Big Time Sarah photo by Peter Amft
Zora Young photo courtesy of Zora Young
Sunnyland Slim inside photo by John Anthony Brisbin
Graphic design by Terran Doehrer, Earth Star Graphics, Evanston, Illinois
1.She Got a Thing Goin' On 2:29 Sunnyland Slim, lead vocals
2.Sad And Evil Woman 2:31 Bonnie Lee, vocals
3.Long Tall Daddy 3:53 Big Time Sarah, vocals
4.Rockin' My Blues Away 2:44 Big Time Sarah, vocals
5.Bus Station Blues 5:03 Zora Young, vocals
6.Tryin' to Make a Living 3:03 Bonnie Lee, lead vocals
7.See My Lawyer 2:45 Sunnyland Slim, vocals
8.Darling, Yes, I Love You 2:06 Kansas City Red, vocals
9.Feel Like Stroking 3:55 Zora Young, vocals
10.Goin' Down Slow 3:22 Floyd Jones, vocals
11.Big Time Operator 2:08 Big Time Sarah, vocals
12.Done You Wrong 3:23 Sunnyland Slim, vocals
13.She Got That Jive 2:32 Sunnyland Slim, vocals
14.Black Cat Cross My Trail 4:40 Big Time Sarah, lead vocals