Black Music Sunday: Remembering Guitar Slim and the things he used to do

Certain songs outlive the singer or the songwriter, and continue to be covered by artists who may not have even been born when the song was birthed.

For this installment of “Black Music Sunday,” I’m talking about “The Things That I Used to Do,” which was recorded on Oct. 26, 1953, for Specialty Records at the Matassa J&M Recording Studio in New Orleans. The producer and arranger for the session was a young, 23-year-old musician named Ray Charles. The songwriter-singer was Eddie Jones, who was not quite 27.

Jones—the blues guitarist known to the world as “Guitar Slim”—was born on Dec. 10, 1926, in Greenwood, Mississippi. He joined the ancestors far too young, at the age of 32, in February 1959 in New York City. In the course of his short life, he achieved something that many artists never do when given many more years of life.

His song, “The Things I Used to Do,” became a standard in genres from blues to R&B to rock and roll, and has been covered by well over 50 artists, including Muddy Waters, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and many more.

”Black Music Sunday” is a weekly series highlighting all things Black music. With nearly 190 stories covering performers, genres, history, and more, each featuring its own vibrant soundtrack. I hope you’ll find some familiar tunes and perhaps an introduction to something new.

Before we go any further, here’s Slim’s classic, “The Things That I Used to Do.” Give it a listen:

James Nadal at All That Jazz wrote this Guitar Slim biography:

New Orleans bluesman Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones) exerted an enormous influence on many modern guitarists to follow. A brilliant and underrated guitarist, Slim was also the consummate showman. He dyed his hair to match the color of his suits and used a 100-foot+ guitar cord to wander off stage into the parking lot during gigs. He lived in the fast lane and he played loudly! His 1954 hit, “Things That I Used to Do,” is a timeless and important blues classic, reached the top of the R&B charts. It featured another blues legend, Ray Charles who arranged the gospel-tinged track and played piano.

[…]

When he was five years old his mother died, and having never known his father, he was sent to Hollandale to be raised by his grandmother on the L. C. Haves plantation. Living there, he learned to make a living working in the cotton fields and plowing behind a mule.

At a young age, Eddie would spend his free time at the local juke joints in Hollandale. He began to sit in with traveling and local bands as a singer and dancer. In fact, his adept skills as a dancer earned him the nickname “Limber Legs.” At the age of 18, he was working with a band fronted by Willie Warren. Bandleader Willie Warren was acknowledged as introducing Jones to the guitar. He found further influence from the Delta slide legend Robert Nighthawk, who occasionally traveled through Hollandale. Despite the wealth of Blues guitarists in Mississippi, Jones gained his true love for the instrument from the sounds he heard coming out of Texas, in particular, T-Bone Walker and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. And it would be Gatemouth’s “Boogie Rambler” that he would use as his theme song for several years.

David Kunian, music curator at the New Orleans Jazz Museum, released the documentary “The Things I Used To Do: The Legend of Eddie Guitar Slim Jones” in 2002. It’s a must-watch for blues lovers.

As Kunian noted for WWOZ New Orleans in 2011:

Slim was a pioneer in his use of distortion and volume as well as his outrageous stage performances. He has influenced everyone from Ray Charles to Buddy Guy to Stevie Ray Vaughn to Doug Sahm. This program includes much of Slim’s recorded music as well as recollections from Ray Charles, Jerry Wexler, Earl King, Edward “Kidd” Jordan, Robert Parker, Bill Sinigal, Carol Fran, Gerri Hall, Frank Mitchell, and Renault Richard.

Give it a watch. It’s less than an hour long.

 

Before we explore some of the many epic covers of “The Things I Used To Do,” let’s hear some more from Slim.

He introduces himself in “I’m Guitar Slim.”

Here’s Slim with an all-star lineup in 1958 in New York City:

Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones):Vocals & Guitar

Johnny Griffin:Tenor Sax

Joe Morris:Trumpet

Matthew Gee:Trombone

Elmo Hope:Piano

Percy Heath:Bass

Philly Joe Jones:Drums

Recorded in New York City, N.Y. Wednesday, January 22, 1958 

Slim pays tribute to the great bluesman Robert Johnson with his version of “Come On in My Kitchen.”

And just like Johnson impacted those who came after him, Slim did the same for other guitarists. Jimmy Leslie wrote for Guitar Player in 2020:

“I learned about showmanship from Guitar Slim,” remembers Buddy Guy. “It was the first time I ever saw a Strat in my life. I paid a dollar and a quarter to see him in Baton Rouge. When they introduced him, I was standing at the bandstand – there weren’t any chairs.

“It was on the second floor at a rented hall called the Temple Roof. The band played for a half hour or so until a voice said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Guitar Slim,’ and all I heard was a guitar.

“You know how you put a baby around your neck and put its little legs over your shoulder? A guy brought him in through the crowd like that, and then he bent over and dropped Slim onstage where he sang ‘Done Got Old.’ ‘I want to play like B.B. King,’ I thought, ‘but I’m going to act like Guitar Slim.’

Here’s a short clip of Guy discussing how Slim challenged his expectations of guitar playing and performance. 

Rock & Roll Paradise offers a partial list of the many covers of “The Things I Used To Do.”

“The Things That I Used to Do” became the verified million plus record sale that catapulted Slim into a major impact on rock and roll, as he experimented with distorted overtones on the electric guitar a full decade before Jimi Hendrix.

The song is listed in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. How much did it shape R&R? • Albert Collins • Stevie Ray Vaughn• Junior Parker • Muddy Waters • Lightnin’ Slim• Jimi Hendrix • Freddie King • Chuck Berry • Big Joe Turner – (1977) • Elvin Bishop and The Grateful Dead in live performance only – (1969) • G. Love and Special Sauce – (1994) • Buddy Guy • Luther Allison • John Mayer • Dan Auerbach (With his pre-The Black Keys band The Barnburners) • Richie Havens• Gary Moore • James Brown, whose 1964 recording charted #99 Pop. Not bad indeed.

You can find a full list of covers over at Second Hand Songs.

Now, let’s get a listen of some of them. Here’s rock ‘n’ roll legend Chuck Berry, performing it live in Belgium in 1965, some six years after Slim left this world.

One of my favorite versions is from Jimi Hendrix, live with Buddy Miles at the 1969 Newport Pop Festival.

Stevie Ray Vaughan recorded his take on the song in 1984. Here’s a live performance, from the 1984 CBS Records Convention in Honolulu.

One of the most interesting takes I’ve heard comes from folk guitar master and activist Richie Havens.

Join me in the comments for many more takes on Slim’s iconic song—and as always, I hope you’ll post some of your favorites on this Sunday bluesday, as we pay tribute to the one and only Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones.

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