DO YOURSELF a favor. Go to YouTube and search for “Magic Slim Goin’ to Mississippi Blind Pig 2011.” The video shows blues fundamentalist Magic Slim recording a song with his band, the Teardrops, in the warehouse of his record label two years ago. He was still going strong then at age 73, despite chronic heart and lung ailments. In the video he plays a straight blues shuffle, the kind of thing played every day by millions of musicians all over the world. But it’s a shuffle done right, a form lastingly codified in the 1950s during the golden age of Chicago blues and perfected by Magic Slim over the course of a musical lifetime. And a shuffle played right is a truly satisfying — and deceptively rare — thing.
A little rarer now, I’m sad to say. Funeral services for Magic Slim, whose given name was Morris Holt, will be held Saturday in Lincoln, Neb. His longtime manager, Marty Salzman, reports condolences “from Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Israel, Argentina; Brazil, where he was a big star; from all over.” With his gruff vocals and vibrato-heavy guitar in perfect balance, and his signature rattletrap groove like a reliable old engine running loud and smoky, Magic Slim raised a journeyman’s fidelity to his trade to an order of accomplishment so advanced that it became a kind of virtuosity.