Memphis Slim (September 3, 1915 – February 24, 1988) was an American blues pianist, singer, and composer. He led a series of bands that, reflecting the popular appeal of jump blues, included saxophones, bass, drums, and piano. A song he first cut in 1947, “Every Day I Have the Blues“, has become a blues standard, recorded by many other artists. He made over 500 recordings.
Memphis Slim was born John Len Chatman, in Memphis, Tennessee. For his first recordings, for Okeh Records in 1940, he used the name of his father, Peter Chatman (who sang, played piano and guitar, and operated juke joints); it is commonly believed that he did so to honor his father. He started performing under the name “Memphis Slim” later that year but continued to publish songs under the name Peter Chatman.
He spent most of the 1930s performing in honky-tonks, dance halls, and gambling joints in West Memphis, Arkansas, and southeast Missouri. He settled in Chicago in 1939 and began teaming with the guitarist and singer Big Bill Broonzy in clubs soon afterward. In 1940 and 1941 he recorded two songs for Bluebird Records that became part of his repertoire for decades, “Beer Drinking Woman” and “Grinder Man Blues”. These were released under the name “Memphis Slim,” given to him by Bluebird’s producer, Lester Melrose. Slim became a regular session musician for Bluebird, and his piano talents supported established stars such as John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, Washboard Sam, and Jazz Gillum. Many of Slim’s recordings and performances until the mid-1940s were with Broonzy, who had recruited Slim to be his piano player after the death of his accompanist Joshua Altheimer in 1940.