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Magic Slim, 75; delta blues guitarist got start in Chicago

Magic Slim was touring up until his death Thursday. He released a record of cover songs last year.

Greg Wahl-Stephens/Associated Press/File 2009

Magic Slim was touring up until his death Thursday. He released a record of cover songs last year.

PHILADELPHIA — Magic Slim, a younger contemporary of blues greats Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf who helped shape the sound of Chicago’s electric blues, died Thursday. He was 75.

His manager, Marty Salzman, said the musician had health problems that worsened while he was on tour several weeks ago in Pennsylvania.

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Magic Slim and his backing band, the Teardrops, performed a no-holds-barred brand of Chicago-style electric blues, led by his singing and guitar playing, and were regulars on the music festival circuit.

Slim’s given name was Morris Holt. The Mississippi native established himself in Chicago’s thriving blues community in the 1960s but more recently lived in Lincoln, Neb.

Mr. Holt’s story was one of persistence. Like many bluesmen from Mississippi, he left a life that revolved around cotton fields and moved to Chicago in 1955. But competition on the South Side was fierce and he moved back home after failing to establish himself.

Playing plantation parties and small gigs, he honed his skills and enlisted his brothers, Nick and Douglas, as his backing band. They returned to Chicago, where they formed the Teardrops and refused to be dismissed.

He maintained a career well into the 21st century. Mr. Holt and the Teardrops won blues band of the year at the 2003 Blues Music Awards, and he released a record of covers last year.

‘‘If you were going to take somebody who’d never seen blues to one of their shows, it would be like putting them in a time machine and putting them in 1962,’’ Salzman said. ‘‘No frills, no rock ‘n’ roll. It was just straight-ahead, real-deal blues.’’

Mr. Holt came by the sound authentically. Born in Torrance, Miss., he grew up in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta. His first love was piano, but he lost the little finger on his right hand to a cotton gin and switched to guitar. Like many contemporaries, he started out on a one-string instrument he made by nailing a piece of wire taken from a broom to the wall.

He moved to Grenada at age 11 and met Magic Sam, an influential blues guitarist. Sam taught him about the instrument and gave him his first job as a bass player years later when he first moved to Chicago.

Mr. Holt didn’t make his first recordings until 1966. He released his first album, ‘‘Born Under A Bad Sign,’’ on a French label in 1977 and put out an album of covers, ‘‘Bad Boy,’’ last year.

Salzman said that bleeding ulcers sent Mr. Holt to the hospital and that he also suffered from heart, lung and kidney ailments.

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