By Melina Paris, Music Columnist
Within the first three months of his online radio program, Let’s Talk Blues, Henry Harris, aka South Side Slim, brought not only an engaging personality, but also the chops to showcase the entire timeline of the Los Angeles blues scene. This musician from the south side of Los Angeles regularly describes the balancing act that his radio show requires with his catchphrase, “Sponsored by Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, Let’s Talk Blues is dedicated to old school blues and artists true to the blues with the inclination to play jazz and beyond.”
It wasn’t long after the show’s inception, that Slim found its authentic voice. His goal is simple enough—he wants to create an open and diverse program to allow more people to participate.
launched only one week after the owner of Roscoe’s Media Center recruited Slim as host. Slim had absolutely no previous experience in radio but by the time the show debuted he did have a co-host: Carolyn Gaines, the daughter of the blues master Roy Gaines. “We pulled it together for that show,” he recalled. “Carolyn had one of B.B. King’s daughters call in. I had a blues singer and actor come in, Roy Jones Sr. The show was good.”
Gaines did not continue with Let’s Talk Blues. But Slim carried on, learning to run a radio show from the same person who had taught him to play guitar—himself.
Let’s Talk Blues with South Side Slim
Slim covers all eras of the blues, pulling from the mid-1920s to the 1960s He’s showcased greats such as Furry Lewis and Billy Lyons, with their song Stackolee.
“I’ve heard a lot about that song,” Slim said. “It’s like an old folk tale. Stackolee is the kind of guy you don’t want to mess with. If you’re playing dice with him, as the lyric said,
When you lose your money, learn to lose (or you might get shot).
“I also played Jimmy Jackson and Larry Core and females like Bertha Chippie Hill, with Trouble on My Mind …. Of course, these artists are black, there weren’t many white blues men in 1927. Also Charlie Pickens, Lonnie Johnson and Petie Wheatstraw.”
Covering records from 1940s to 1960s, Slim has played Big Joe Turner and his Fly Cats, Jay McShann, Walter Brown and Lewis Jordan and his Tympany Five. He also has played songs from the incomparable Dinah Washington, Muddy Waters and Larry Davis.
Slim also tries to add a little of his own music into the mix.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about spreading the word, but of course, I have to give myself some props too.”
With the online radio platform Slim is focused on representing not only the players he’s worked with in South Central, but elsewhere also.
“I’ve done so much extensive work with the blues and with my late friend Kari Fretham, including the documentary Hot Love On Me So Strong about the last few juke joints in South Central,” Slim said. “She did a great job chronicling the scene there. Many artists from South Central that are unknown played on the album. A few years back I did a CD called, South Side All Stars Doing Barnyard Hits, which has about 15 players from South Central on it. It’s all original and has players who should be known.”
When his good friend, Fretham died this past December, she left so much documentation behind.
“We were like a tag team,” Slim said. “After she left, everything was in my hands, the documentary, my biography, Sweetback Blues, The Twelve Bar Tale of South Side Slim and my CDs, including the ones I produced with Jerry Rosen. I was trying to figure out how to pull all of this together under one umbrella.”
Out of nowhere, one day, Slim had a show at Roscoe’s Seabird Jazz Lounge in Long Beach and was talking to the owner of the club about how he worked with a lot of the artists that come through there to play.
“So he told me he wanted me to do an interview on his radio show but when I got there, I was told, ‘No, he has different plans for you,’” Slim said. ‘He wants you to host an online blues radio show.’
He was shocked but recognized an opportunity to pull all of his past work together.
“It was a blessing and it’s nice to have a voice to speak on all my experiences over the last 25 years,” Slim said. “Los Angeles is a big county and a lot of people have the blues, Latinos, Asians, white people, we all have the blues. I want to diversify and respect the scene that I came up in.”
Slim’s scene has been diverse. He started around 1990, through Babe’s and Ricki’s on 59th and Main streets. A lot of players of all ethnicities came through there. However, further on the south side, at the Pioneer Club and Pure Pleasure Lounge, for example, mostly black players performed. They mixed it up with rhythm and blues, and blues.
“It wasn’t like Babe’s and Ricki’s, which was a melting pot,” Slim said. “That’s how I want my show to be, a melting pot, but I do want to dedicate it to old-school blues because there are just so many shows out there now that seem to have forgotten the traditional blues, in my opinion.”
One of the goals for Roscoe’s is to eventually have monitors, broadcasting the radio station in all of its establishments as an entertainment feature.
Never one for redundancy, Slim has presented an eclectic variety of guest artists on his show. Because he knows so many musicians, he was able to call friends such as Dr. Hank, a bluesman from the south side in his early shows. Recently, he had Mighty Mo Rodgers, a classic bluesman from Chicago, with his latest CD, Mud and Blood. He also hosted the local Lester Lands and Roy Goren, a 16-years-old, guitarist.
On June 15, local legend Ray Brooks appeared. Brooks was nominated for the Blues Grammy in 1979 for his recording of Walk Out Like A Lady. Willie McNeil, a drummer and Hollywood legend who was the catalyst for South Side Slim’s contribution in the Paul McCartney, Early Days jam session video also showed up on June 21. Slim has an interview June 28, with a great guitar player from the east side of town, Joey Delgado with The Delgado Brothers.
Slim didn’t initially know if he would have a guest each week but it became a regular thing he wanted to keep up. Now he pre-books his shows.
Jazz and gospel singer and director of The World Stage in Leimert Park, Dwight Trible is coming on the show in July, as well as Alexander Gershman from the jazz band Sasha’s Block. Gershman just released a single called Runaway Blues billed as a jazz, gospel and blues crossover. It also features the a cappella band that sings everything from gospel, to R&B to jazz, Take 6.
“I do a segment of old school blues from 1927 to 1940 on each show and I’ve also received CD’s from friends that I play, like Lucky Lloyd to Mike Wheeler and up and coming Chicago blues man,” Slim said. “I like to play some that are famous and some not so famous. So I play some up to date stuff from friends and I try to make it authentic. That is the basic goal. It’s only an hour show and there’s a lot of blues shows out there playing most of the stuff people hear all the time. Not too many radio stations are playing the old school blues anymore. Most play what is happening right now.”
Check out Let’s Talk Blues at www.rmconair.com.
To learn more about South Side Slim at www.southsideslim.com