San Francisco Chronicle
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.”