Daniel “Slick” Ballinger’s story is literally the stuff of movies. Young white boy travels to the Mississippi Delta to live with –and learn from– aging blues legend. Barb and I drove to Kennett this weekend to hear him play. He and two sidemen (Terry “Harmonica” Bean and drummer Kenny Kimbrough) did two one-hour sets at a local bar called The End Zone. I grew up in Kennett and don’t ever remember paying a ten dollar cover charge but The End Zone was packed. The back story on Slick is worth a read and the best place to start is Tweed’s Blues. Tweed maintains the semi-official Slick Ballinger page there. (Be sure to read the Como Chronicles.)
I won’t waste a lot of words trying to capture the Slick Ballinger Experience. Like all such moments, you had to be there. If you pressed me for a word to describe Slick’s performance, I’d have to go with “intense.” I shot some video under what has to be the worst conditions imaginable. Check back in a couple of days. If I got anything usable, I’ll post it. [Barb took most of these photos.]
I don’t know how Slick learned to play a guitar like that in less than twenty years. And I can’t imagine where that kind of passion comes from in one so young. Uber-fan Viretta says some of the old timers back in Mississippi think Slick is the reincarnation of Robert Johnson (doesn’t the screenplay practically write itself?).
We ran into Slick, Kenney and Terry the next morning at McCormick’s. They were fueling up on biscuits and gravy before hitting the road to Chicago where they’re performing at a Sara Lee corporate function. Slick doesn’t have a record deal and apparently doesn’t want one. Sounds like all of his bookings are word of mouth. After watching him perform, it’s hard not believe I’ll see him again…with a Grammy in his hand. But that won’t make his music any better. And those who know him say it won’t make him any happier. If you’ll give me one more word to describe Daniel “Slick” Ballinger, I’ll go with “authentic.”
[Note to Viretta and Nancy: You were right.]