There is a photograph making the rounds taken by Val Wilmer of Tarheel Slim (Alden Bunn) wearing a Yellow Cab hat – some versions have a Hairy White Guy next to him as well. Now lest writers of the future jump to hurried conclusions, that is my Yellow Cab hat (and I’m the Hairy White Guy!) and it was my trademark for many a year, on and off the road. It was given to me back in the mid 70s by Timmy Duran, a Mexican-American mandolin player from California who was working with The Arm Bros., a bluegrass/C&W band based in Poughkeepsie, NY and led by Dan DelSanto (O&S 2, 53). Tarheel Slim did drive a school bus for a private bus line in Brooklyn, NY and that proves that he was truly a saint! Even my mother, a rather stiff WASP, liked him when I brought him to my parents’ house in NJ for his first recording sessions for me. But he was never a taxicab driver. Slim just grabbed my hat while Val was taking pictures at his apartment in the South Bronx, partly as a joke, and partly due to the uncertainty concerning his recently shaven head! And none of us ever drove a cab, merely acquiring a hat for greater or lesser amounts of time… it, too, is with all my stuff in storage in NJ! Hopefully, that settles that.
There was another hat of mine, though, that sticks in my mind concerning Slim, one that I ended up giving him. It was a black beret and he’s wearing it in the cover-shot I took for his Trix album where he’s in a tree at my place in Ulster Co with my National. He had it again in 1975 when he came up to my place to rehearse for a few area jobs with some local musicians (Tom Grasso, pno; Rob Minervini, bs gtr; Denis Minervini, dms). They played at a bar in New Paltz (St Blaise), plus a night at Smitty’s outside of town (O&S # 2, 53). One day Slim took off on my bicycle to “downtown Rosendale” – he returned later that afternoon and proceeded to cook us dinner! I have this mental image of a tall and stately Black man wearing a black beret peddling the bike up the hills with pigs’ feet and frozen collard greens in a sack clamped to the holder over the back fender. Would that he hadn’t smoked cigarettes, the likely cause of his throat cancer.
Tarheel Slim was one of the handful of special friends I made during my decade of field-work. He went past being an informant and became part of my life’s fabric, just like Willie Trice (O&S # 9), Baby Tate (O&S # 11), or Eddie Kirkland (O&S # 49, 50, 51). He told stories of his early life in “South America” (as he referred to North Carolina) and he looked forward to his trip to the Raleigh/Durham area for the concerts that Bastin and I made happen at UNC – Chapel Hill in 1973. It was his first trip to NC since he left in the 40s! Little bits of trivial information came out from time to time, such as Riff Ruffin being responsible for the arrangement on Buster Brown’s massive hit “Fannie Mae”. Slim was a gentle soul who had the voice of an angel (or some such similar applicable simile). He is missed by all who knew him, but that mental image I have of him riding the bicycle through the foothills of the Catskills keeps me happy to this day. And I repeat… the Yellow Cab hat was just a prop.
Peter B. Lowry
Published: BLUES & RHYTHM
Tarheel Slim recorded many times for me, either in Brooklyn or my folks’ place in NJ, or at my home in Ulster Co, NY. While he took ill and then died before I could get him into a studio with a band, I did get him recorded with former associate Big Chief Ellis (O&S # 19) at my place; he also did some multi-tracking there as well. The one released album on Trix is/was the proverbial iceberg tip, I’m afraid – I only got a part of the whole that made up Tarheel Slim. There’re some sides from the CH concerts with Billy Troiani on bass and Denis Minervini on drums… they played together after Slim did some solo things. He was a really flexible performer and I still to this day do not understand why nobody ever was interested in getting him touring around the States and Europe. And he was a beautiful singer and a beautiful person. Our loss.
A side-bar to my working with Atlantic Records [O&S # 15] was a letter from Ahmet Ertegun (who had recorded Slim & Ann on Atco) allowing me to use their studios for the purpose of recording Slim with a band… that was my payment for doing those re-issue projects! I had hoped to get him together with some NYC area musicians that he would have known – Jimmy Spruill, Bob Gaddy, Bobby Harris, Joe Richardson, a.o. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.
The last time I saw him, I loaned him a small “boom-box” and some tapes; his favorite was Aretha Franklin’s “double” gospel show recording for Atlantic Records. I spoke with him on the telephone from time to time after that – Anton Mikofsky got him on a small festival or two, even though his voice was poor. In fact, I remember going to one in New Jersey… THAT was the last time I saw Slim, my friend. I wrote an obit for LIVING BLUES that covers some different things as well as having one of my photos… markedly, smoking a cigarette.