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Carolina Slim was a Piedmont blues guitarist from North Carolina whose style was shaped as much by Lightnin' Hopkins as it was by his home state. He was born Edward Harris in Leasburg, North Carolina, near the Virginia border. Not much is known about Harris. He apparently learned guitar from his father and spent time in Durham, NC, as an itinerant musician. Like most Carolina bluesmen at the time, he was heavily influenced by Blind Boy Fuller. However, the jukebox became widespread at the time, and through this Harris became influenced by the popular Hopkins. carolina slim

In 1950, Harris was dubbed Carolina Slim (possibly in deference to his height) when he recorded for Herman Lubinsky's Savoy group of labels. He moved to Newark, the home of Savoy, after his first session. Slim acknowledged his roots with songs like Carolina Boogie and a cover of Fuller's Rag Mama Rag, and by occaisionally playing with a washboard player. However, he also showed his modern influences by recording occaisionally with a drummer and his Hopkins influence with songs like ... In fact, Harris imitated Hopkins not just on record: like Lightnin', Slim also recorded under a variety of names (including Jammin' Jim, Lazy Slim Jim, and Georgia Pine) and though he had no big hit, his country blues-based records sold well enough to let him jump to another label (Sid Nathan's King) under an assumed name (Country Paul) in 1951 and 1952. His King material was pretty similar to what he'd done for Savoy: a down home combination of Piedmont blues and Lightnin' Hopkins. Harris returned to Savoy to cut four more songs in June of '52, which proved to be his last. In 1953, he entered a hospital in Newark for back surgery and suffered a fatal heart attack during the operation. Savoy released a posthumous album, one of the first by a blues singer.

Some have said that Ed Harris was the last gasp of Piedmont blues before record companies gave up on it, and even then part of his success was based on his ability to sound like Lightnin' Hopkins. Those who recorded him must have found his music to be old-fashioned and unable to compete with the likes of B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf. Well, true enough, but Slim's records sold pretty well for Savoy when the label was concentrating on jump blues and R&B, not country blues. Also, Harris was adept at playing the Texas blues of Lightnin' Hopkins, in addition to the Piedmont style of his home state. These two blues are fairly different animals, and when two different musics come together, unique things can happen. Maybe it's just me, but when I hear his music, I think Carolina Slim may have been onto something. Had he lived, he might have created a modern Piedmont style before record companies' interest in the music disappeared.

Or maybe not.

There are two recordings of Carolina Slim available. One is Savoy's Blues Go Away from Me (SJL 1153), which gathers his recordings for the label's various subsidiaries. However, I recommend Document's Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order (BDCD-6043), mainly because it includes his King sides, which the Savoy release cannot.