San Francisco Chronicle

Mu­sic

- By Lee Hilde­brand Lee Hilde­brand is a free­lance writer. Musicians · Celebrities · Music · Prostitution · Eminem · Oakland · Ice Cube · Ice T · Clarence · Louisiana · Baton Rouge · Midland · Texas · Midland · Los Angeles · San Francisco · United States of America · Mexico · New Orleans · Snoop Dogg · E-40 · Baton Rouge · Guitar Slim · Dew Drop Inn · Dew Drop, California · Tenderloin

Fill­more Slim re­turns to Eli’s Mile High Club in Oak­land.

Fill­more Slim set his sights more than six decades ago on be­com­ing a fa­mous blues singer, but hap­pen­stance side­tracked him into find­ing greater fame and fortune as a pimp. Al­though he aban­doned the lat­ter pro­fes­sion in 1985, af­ter hav­ing served five years in a se­ries of fed­eral pen­i­ten­tiaries for pass­port fraud, he has con­tin­ued to be lauded as “Pope of Pimps,” men­tioned in songs by Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Ice T, E-40 and other hip-hop stars.

Born Clarence Sims 82 years ago in Ba­ton Rouge, La., Slim was in­tro­duced to the sex trade in the mid-1950s dur­ing a week­long gig in Mid­land, Texas, by a pros­ti­tute who took a lik­ing to him, handed him “a fist­ful of money” and asked him to take her to Los An­ge­les, where she in­tro­duced him to other work­ing girls.

“It was ten­der love and care with me,” he says of his re­la­tion­ship with his for­mer pros­ti­tutes. “I wasn’t vi­o­lent with the women or noth­ing like that. I was smooth with ’em.”

That and other de­tails of Slim’s check­ered ca­reer are re­counted in “Blues Man Mack: How I Con­quered the Stage and the Streets,” an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy co-writ­ten with his friend Sue Cog­gins. He will be sign­ing copies of the book be­fore per­for­mances Fri­day and Satur­day, Feb. 24 and 25, at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oak­land. Also on the bill is sax­o­phon­ist Bobbie Webb, with whose band Slim first worked with af­ter ar­riv­ing in San Fran­cisco in 1955.

The en­gage­ment marks Slim’s re­turn to the East Bay club where he made up his mind to be­come a full-time mu­si­cian — while liv­ing at a half­way house nearby.

“I had a chap­er­one from the half­way house — lit­tle gray-haired lady — to see that I didn’t drink no al­co­hol or noth­ing like that,” re­calls the lanky blues­man of that one fate­ful jam ses­sion.

The singing gui­tarist went over so well that club owner Troyce Key, a blues singer him­self, hired Slim to per­form other nights and soon pro­duced his first al­bum, “Born to Sing the Blues.” Slim, who had be­gun his record­ing ca­reer in 1957 with a self-writ­ten sin­gle ti­tled “You Got the Nerve of a Brass Mon­key,” fol­lowed up his de­but re­lease with nine al­bums and has since per­formed at clubs and fes­ti­vals through­out the United States and Mex­ico.

“A lot of my peers who went in the joint and came out had noth­ing to do,” he says. “I had my mu­sic to fall back on.”

Slim was in­spired to be­come a blues­man af­ter see­ing Gui­tar Slim, best known for his 1954 hit “The Things That I Used to Do,” at the Dew Drop Inn in New Or­leans. “He was tall like me, and he wore a green suit,” Slim re­mem­bers. “The women would be scream­ing for him with his hair gassed (processed). He was just a ladies’ man up there on that stage. I said, ‘I wanna be like that.’ ”

Back in Ba­ton Rouge, as he was about to be ar­rested for hav­ing robbed a few men leav­ing a lo­cal brothel, his par­ents put him and a sis­ter on a train to San Fran­cisco. It was here where he came up with his name af­ter eye­ing a Fill­more Street sign.

On that very street, four decades later, Slim was be­ing filmed for the 1999 documentar­y “Amer­i­can Pimp,” in which the Ten­der­loin cops knew him well.

“The po­lice said, ‘We sent you to prison; now we’re out here di­rect­ing traf­fic while you’re mak­ing a movie,’ ” he re­calls, with a laugh.

But no mat­ter the game, Slim be­lieves he was des­tined to be a mu­sic man — “I was born with that inside of me.”

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 ?? San­ti­ago Me­jia / The Chron­i­cle ?? Fill­more Slim de­cided to be­come a full-time mu­si­cian while vis­it­ing Eli’s Mile High Club in the 1950s.
San­ti­ago Me­jia / The Chron­i­cle Fill­more Slim de­cided to be­come a full-time mu­si­cian while vis­it­ing Eli’s Mile High Club in the 1950s.

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