An Interview with Watermelon Slim
2005 W.C. Handy Award Nominee, Best New Artist Debut
by Pete "Blewzzman" Lauro Â© May, 2005
8:00 PM, Friday, May 6, 2005. It is the night after the W C HANDY AWARDS and although Watermelon Slim did not win the award he was deservedly nominated for, he did put on one heck of a show during his performance at the ceremony. It was that performance that led me to want to do this interview and to come here tonight - to the W C HANDY BLUES HALL on Beale Street - to see Slim do a set with his full band.
Blewzzman: Slim, is this the first time you have ever attended a W C HANDY AWARDS ceremony?
Slim: It certainly was. I've never had any reason to attend until they finally nominated me for one.
Blewzzman: And exactly what category were you nominated for, Slim?
Slim: I was nominated in the category of "Best new Artist Debut". That means they liked my record album enough to get to be one of five finalists.
Blewzzman: Now prior to this record you got nominated for, how many other records had you put out?
Slim: Before this I had made three records. One in 1973 and two in this century.
Blewzzman: Then how would this be considered "Best new Artist Debut" if you have had other records out?
Slim: Because this is the first one I've had out that had a national distribution contract. I have never had anything more than local or regional distribution. With "UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL", the record I received the nomination with, I had a nationwide distribution contract.
Blewzzman: Well very good, and congratulations to you on that nomination. Now what about you performing at the awards ceremony, how were you approached about that?
Slim:: Well, my manager told me I was doing it. Chris Hardwick, who is my manager and also the owner of Southern Records out of Norman, OK believes in me and he told me "you are playing at the Handy's". And I just said OK, that's good.
Blewzzman: Excellent! Slim, playing at the Handy Awards ceremony is more of an honor than a gig, right? I mean there is no pay involved, correct?
Slim: That's correct.
Blewzzman: Playing with most of the other nominees and some of the musics biggest legends has to be an absolute thrill. Musically, was this one of the biggest nights for you?
Slim: I'd have to say so. All I had to do was play three songs so the only difficulty for me was being sure I choose the right ones.
Blewzzman: Well, I was there and you certainly did, because the crowds reaction was phenomenal. I thought of all the acoustic acts that I saw last night, yours was one of the most enthusiastic and one of the most well received. The crowd was just absolutely crazy about you. That had to make you feel great.
Slim: Well, when it comes to enthusiasm, I don't take a back seat to anybody. I know I try to give people 103% every time I go up there and I give the victory to Jesus Christ, just as Mavis Staples who played before me did. I also knew I was playing for a sophisticated, in the know crowd and a matter of fact, it was the biggest crowd I've played for this century, so I was pumped to get up there and do it.
Blewzzman: Well, you certainly did a good job and you certainly were up for the performance. Slim, what was your opinion of the whole overall ceremony, the awards as well as the musical performances?
Slim: Well, it was extremely well run, but those aren't the important parts. You know they had a who's who of everybody that's in the blues and I got to meet and shake the hand of Pinetop Perkins and Sam Lay. I had met Charlie Musselwhite and Hubert Sumlin before, but it had been many years, decades even, since I had seen either one of those people. There are names after names that I could give you, some of whom are my heroes and some who have played with heroes of mine that have long passed.
Blewzzman: So rubbing elbows with some of the giants and some of the current and future legends of the blues was pretty much the highlight of your evening?
Slim: Oh absolutely. At this point I'm 56 years old and I am a senior fellow in the business. A couple of the people who were nominated for Handy Awards are people that I had some influence on many years ago. That's how I know I'm a senior in this business now. Like Annie Raines. She was a teenager hanging around clubs listening to me way back when. Now she is a Handy nominee many times over. I am real fortunate to have been an influence on her.
Blewzzman: That's interesting, because I have virtually considered you a newcomer. Blues is one of those things where no mater how much you think you know and how many artists you think you know, there is always something or someone else to learn about. Apparently you've been around a lot more than I thought you've been.
Slim: I played my first paid gig in 1968, before I ever went into the service. I recorded my first record album between 1972 and 1973. I was the only Viet Nam Veteran to record a record album while the war was going on.
Blewzzman: That's quite interesting. We are the same age, and I am also a Viet Nam era Veteran. I had no idea you go back that far as a musician. I also got into the blues way back then myself. Once again Slim, tell me the name of your album so all the readers can see it one more time.
Slim: The name of the album that was nominated for the W C HANDY AWARD is called "UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL". My new album, that will be out at the end of this August will be "WATERMELON SLIM AND THE WORKERS" and it will feature the band that you will hear tonight at my show. It will be our first collaboration and most of it will be my original songs.
Blewzzman: Slim, I want to thank you very much for the interview and I am looking very forward to hearing tonight's show as well as hearing, and maybe reviewing your next CD. I do hope you'll send me one.
Slim: Absolutely, and God bless you. Thank you very much for your courtesy.
A few hours later, I did get to catch the last set of WATERMELON SLIM AND THE WORKERS and what a show it was. However, that's another story.
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