3310: Tarheel Slim – “No Time at All”
Original LP and CD re-release
Success for a black musician is very often a fleeting thing, though a single hit can often carry an artist for some period of time. In 1959 there was a record on the R&B charts for nearly ten weeks . . . made it into the black top twenty . . . entitled “It’s Too Late”; artists – Tarheel Slim and Little Ann. It was a minor key blues, with each singing alternate verses. In spite of subsequent recordings, they never matched the sales levels attained by their first effort for a small NYC record label. Work was available on the strength of that one record, and jobs continued into the mid-sixties, but without further hits, it was a downhill spiral.
Tarheel Slim was born Alden Bunn in Bailey, N.C. (near Wilson and Rocky Mount) when he got his first guitar – attracted to it by the musicians he’d see playing In the streets whenever his mother would take him to town (they included Gary Davis, who sold Slim his first Natlonal in 1943!) It was these musicians, coupled with his major recorded influence, Blind Boy Fuller (others were Big Bill, and Buddy Moss) that got him going. His mother would buy every Fuller record as it was issued, and this helped him form his guitar style. (Fuller came once to the Rocky Mount area, but Slim missed him – a later area appearance was cancelled due to Fuller’s illness and subsequent death.) As with many artists, Slim worked a great deal with the many religious singing groups around at the time – male quartets were once the most prevalent form of church group. He had his own group, The Southern Harmoneers, which had a radio spot in Wilson, and he later also worked with another group five days a week over WPFT in Raleigh. This was the Selah Jubilee Singers, his first “big time” musical experience. He first came to their attention through his booking them into area churches and their hearing him with his own group. He joined them full-time In 1947, staying with them for some six years when they left the Carolinas. It was touring with this group that led him to base himself in New York, moving there permanently in 1951 – there he met many of the area blues artists that were similarly based (Big Chief Ellis, Brownie McGhee, Alonzo Scales, Sonny Terry, et al).
Bunn first recorded with the Selahs for Continental and Decca in 1947, then with his own group (the Southern Harmoneers) for Regal in ‘49/‘50. A secular offshoot of that group that was handled by the Selah’s manager recorded for Apollo as The Larks in 1950, while Allen (sic) Bunn recorded for the same company in 1952 doing blues sides. In 1954, a vocal group he managed and led, The Wheels, recorded for Premium (NY), and Allen Baum (sic) did two blues sides for Red Robin that included the group riffing in place of horns. Things were slow musically after that until he met his wife, Ann (Sanford), in 1957 at their church – they started singing together, and recorded that year for Aladdin as The Lovers, with little success but a tight contract! Tarheel Slim did blues again for Bobby Robinson (Fury) in 1958, and the next year cut the big hit with Little Ann for Bobby’s Fire label. A later session around 1963 for Atco proved to be their last – Slim hasn’t recorded since then until these sides, even though he was fairly busy as a session man in the late fifties/early sixties for Apollo and Jubilee, among others. The success had passed and never was matched again, but the man is capable of fine music still, even going back to his roots in the most true way possible unlike some artists who make a fetish of it. The songs here are among some of the oldest he knows, some new material in that vein, and a partial recreation of his first blues session.
SO SWEET, SO SWEET – Normally connected with Blind Boy Fuller’s popular recording (and the source for Slim), this song was done first by Josh White in exactly the same fashion! (2)
MARRIED WOMAN BLUES – This one is taken directly from the Fuller songbook, though. (2)
THE GUY WITH THE .45 – Slim first cut this song for the Apollo label in New York . . . in both cases he was aided by Big Chief Ellis on the piano. (6)
NO TIME AT ALL – This tune was a complete surprise for me, and is a very old-style piece in Sevastopol tuning that Slim dreamed up himself. It has no predictable time or meter. (2)
MY BABY’S GONE – Not from the Curley Weaver song of the same title, but remembered and adapted from an older Lucille Bogan record. (3)
WEEPING WILLOW – Tarheel Slim has taken an old song and put it into a more modern minor; this is the same thing B.B. King has done with older material. (5)
WALKING – Brownie McGhee has done something like this for a long time, and here Slim is accompanied by Brownie’s favorite pianist. (6)
‘FORE DAY CREEP – Another original in Sevastopol, this song was a direct result of asking if there were any more things similar to the title tune. (4)
JITTERBUG RAG — Just a quick instrumental version of the Blind Boy Fuller tune. (2)
SOME COLD, RAINY DAY – Again an older tune, but done in an older style with the slide . . . nice. (5)
SCREAMING & CRYING – The flip-side of Slim’s first record, again with Chief, who chimes in on the vocals. (6)
OPEN NOSE – If you are a boxing fan, then the title will be self-explanatory; if not, then think about it! (3)
DARK SHADOWS – While the title was inspired by the old horror serial on TV, the tune has nothing else to do with it – what you have here is a production effort (the purists won’t like it). (5)
SUPERSTITIOUS – A fine slide piece with friend Dan DelSanto back there on second guitar when needed. (4)
180 DAYS – Going back again, Slim comes up with another new song in the old style . . . fine picking there. (1)
Tarheel Slim is an artist of great depth, able to go back to the sounds he grew up with with ease, and stretch from there into modern R & B. These cuts show off his tasty, subtle guitar, and superb voice to good advantage – if you prefer band stuff, then get his next album, but you should try this first to get a full picture of the man, a fine artist.
(1) Montclair, NJ – Nov 29, 1970 (2) Montclair, NJ – Jan 23, 1971 (3) Montclair, NJ – Apr 17, 1971 (4) Brooklyn, NY – Mar 17, 1972 (5) Cottekill, NY – Sep 22, 1974 (6) Cottekill, NY – Sep 28, 1974
Pete Lowry (1975) contributing editor Blues Unlimited
n.b. – Tarheel Slim can be heard on the following:
Blues Come to Chapel Hill – Flyright 504 New York Country Blues – Flyright 4705 New York City Blues – Flyright 4506 New York R’n’B – Flyright 4507
The cover shot was taken with my favorite National guitar in a gigantic catalpa tree that stands in my backyard. He came up here from Brooklyn on a number of occasions, either to do some recordings (some of these cuts, or backing Big Chief Ellis [Trix 3316]), or to play local bar gigs with some local musicians that I knew. One day he borrowed my bicycle to go to a local market so he could cook dinner for us all. I have this lovely mental image of this noble-looking Black man pedaling along the back roads with pig’s knuckles and collard greens clamped to the carrier over the rear wheel! He was not only a good cook and musician, he was a most wonderful friend to have and to know.
It was late one night in August of 1977 that I received a phone call telling me that Slim had died… that my friend was no longer with me. At his funeral in Brooklyn, he was laid out with a photograph of one of his gospel groups propped up in the casket. No more trips to “South America” (as he called his native N.C.), no more things that good friends talk about, no more stunning performances.
Tarheel Slim was one of the finest voices to appear in the blues or R’n’B world, as this collection will solidly demonstrate. Sadly, we were not able to get any band sessions organized before his throat cancer took over. Ahmet Ertegun had even offered some free studio time in consideration for some work I had done for Atlantic back then. (There should be a second collection like this that will include some of his religious repertoire as well.) Slim was a consummate artists and a great gentleman: this recording gives the world-at-large at least a partial glimpse of his talents.
Peter B. Lowry (1993) CD release Cottekill, NY
I have written much over the years about my friend Tarheel Slim, a true gentleman and a great singer with good guitar chops. He, along with Henry Johnson (Trix 3304) were the best singers I located in my decade of field-work; both out of the quartet tradition. I feel honored to have been able to know him and be his friend, as with a few others like Willie Trice and Eddie Kirkland. Friendship is a wonderful thing and it went beyond “merely’ the music in these cases. I was lucky.
The fifteen pieces on this album were taken from six recording sessions over a five year span (1970-1974): three at my parent’s then home in Montclair, NJ; one at a friend’s (Joan Kolikow) home in Brooklyn, NY; two at my home in Cottekill, NY.
For more on Tarheel Slim, see “Oddenda & Such” #4 and #66.
Peter B. Lowry (2012) Sydney