Drawn (Back) to New Orleans: Guitar Slim, Jr.

Charismatic blues man Guitar Slim, Jr. is proud to have been born and raised in New Orleans.

“It’s my home,” he says. “I love it. I mean, I’ve been to many places… I’ve been to Nantucket Island, I’ve been to Chattanooga with Stevie Ray Vaughan and all of them. I’ve been all over, and I can live anywhere. But I just like it here. I got my spots here.”

As the son of another electric-guitar-wizard Guitar Slim, he’s been steeped in the city’s music from early childhood.

Guitar Slim, Jr., Voice of the Wetlands Festival, photo by Jef Jaisun, OffBeat Magazine

Photo by Jef Jaisun

By this point in his long career, he’s become a respected mainstay on the local R&B circuit, performing at Jazz Fest, Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, House of Blues, Ooh Poo Pah Doo, and various other venues around New Orleans and the country.

When Katrina forced him to temporarily relocate to his family’s home state of Mississippi, he was presented with an unforeseen opportunity to reflect on what makes his own city home to him and to see firsthand why being a musician here is different from being one anywhere else.

Outside the Ooh Poo Pah Doo club one night between sets, he offered some insight.

“They’re great musicians up there [in Mississippi],” he said. “Great musicians, but they’re not like us. They can’t just jump in a band with no rehearsals and just go. Back on Bourbon Street, we’d just jump in the band and start playing. Just pick the key, and that’s it! And they’d think we played together. That’s how we do here.”

He spent his three months in Mississippi working tirelessly to get back to living and playing in New Orleans, where, according to Slim, music is a participatory part of everyone’s everyday life.

“I mean, listen to that. Listen to that!” He gestured, grinning, at the club’s open door and the triumphant drum beats rolling out into the night.

“You can’t just walk by that. You gotta join in! You can’t just walk by that and not dance. Ain’t nobody can do it like we do. I’m not bragging, I’m serious.”

Sure enough, tentative sidewalk-stragglers are drawn inside the club time and again over the course of the evening, unable to resist the compulsive groove, and Slim jerks his head at them knowingly.

“See?” he says. “I told you so.”

His band includes the cool, capable Anthony Garner on bass and the spirited Box Fontenot on drums, formerly of Fats Domino’s band.

You can come listen to their good, nasty New Orleans blues and slow-burning soul standards Saturdays and Sundays at Ooh Poo Pah Doo.