At this point in his career, the gifts bestowed by Sunnyland Slim transcend music. At 81 he's not quite the oldest working Chicago bluesman--that honor would probably go to 83-year-old Jimmy Walker--but he's easily the most resilient, having rebounded from a series of physical setbacks in recent years that would've broken the spirit and energy of many men in their prime, and his joyful, life-affirming presence is a continual source of wonder and inspiration. The music remains first-rate, as well: Sunnyland's roaring voice is one of the most awesome instruments in all of blues, and his wide-fingered, percussive piano style incorporates over 60 years of Delta tradition as well as a sophisticated, Basie-like sparseness, which he unfurls on selections like "Red Top" and his own swinging "Bassology" and "Chicago Jump." An evening in the presence of the still-vital musical prowess and unquenchable spirit of this remarkable elder statesman is one of the most entertaining and inspiring experiences to be found anywhere in music. Sunday and next Sunday, September 18, B.L.U.E.S., 2519 N. Halsted; 528-1012. Thursday, B.L.U.E.S. Etcetera, 1124 W. Belmont; 525-8989.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.