"Guitar Slim" was born Eddie Jones on December 10, 1926
. The single mother
who gave birth to him died when he was five, so his grandmother
raised him and he spent his teen years in the cotton fields
. He spent his free time at the local juke joint
s and starting sitting in as a singer or dancer; he was good enough to be nicknamed "Limber Legs."
After he got back from his World War II military service, he started playing clubs around New Orleans. Bandleader Willie Warren had introduced him to the guitar, and he was particularly influenced by T-Bone Walker and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. About 1950 he adopted the stage name "Guitar Slim" and started becoming known for his wild stage act. He wore bright-colored suits and dyed his hair to match them, had an assistant follow him around the audience with up to 350 feet of cord between amplifier and guitar, and would occasionally get up on his assistant's shoulders, or even take his guitar outside the club and bring traffic to a stop. His sound was just as unusual -- he was playing with distorted guitar more than a decade before rock guitarists did the same, and his gospel-influenced vocals were easily identifiable.
His first recording session was in 1951, and he had a minor R&B hit in 1952 with "Feelin' Sad," which Ray Charles liked enough to cover, and also to play on Slim's later recordings. However, his biggest success was 1954's "The Things That I Used to Do," which is supposed to have come to him in a dream. "A devil and angel fought each other with their own sets of lyrics. Of course, being a blues song, the devil's lyrics had won out." The song spent six weeks at number one on the R&B charts and sold over a million copies, soon becoming blues standard. The tour made on the strength of this song sold out a week of dates at the Apollo Theater, something even Sammy Davis, Jr. wasn't able to do.
Slim was a great drinker and a womanizer; he missed some 1954 tour dates due to a car accident involving alcohol, and he was often said to have a different woman with him every night. He continued to write and tour, and had some other hits such as "It Hurts To Love Someone" and "Down Through The Years," but nothing at the level of "The Things That I Used To Do."
In 1959, he was having breathing problems stemming from his drinking. He and a band went on tour anyway, and while they were in New York state he developed pneumonia. Despite a doctor's advice, he didn't stop drinking, and had to be carried to his room in New York City. The band thought he was just drunk, but when he could not be revived, a doctor was summoned. Unfortunately, the bronchial pneumonia and the alcohol had combined to kill him. He was buried with his guitar in an unmarked grave in Thibodeaux, Louisiana, where he was living at the time, and his death did not even get much publicity due to the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper a few days before.
Despite his short recording career, Guitar Slim is acknowleged as an influence by many blues and rock musicians (especially all those who covered "The Things That I Used To Do"). One of his several children plays under the name of Guitar Slim, Jr. and plays a lot of his father's material around New Orleans clubs.