Friday, March 6, 2015

Slim Whitman

In January 1923, the baby who would become known as Slim Whitman was born in Tampa, Florida, under the given name Ottis Dewey Whitman Jr. (What is it with Florida and people and buildings named Ottis?)

He was right-handed but lost a finger on his right hand in an accident, so taught himself how to play guitar left-handed and string his instrument accordingly. (Years later, a young left-handed Paul McCartney would observe Slim Whitman on TV, and learn how to do the same, and fellow Beatle George Harrison acknowledged Whitman as his initial guitar inspiration.)

His big break came in 1948 when he hired Colonel Tom Parker as his manager; the Colonel immediately got him a contract with RCA records. It's perhaps regrettable that the Colonel didn't put Slim in three dozen B-movies as he did with Elvis; I'd be faithfully watching every one of them now.

Slim's 1952 single "Indian Love Call" was #2 on the U.S. charts and 1954's "Rose Marie" was #1 in the UK for eleven weeks. Other hits included "Cattle Call" (1955), "More Than Yesterday" (1965), "Guess Who" (1971), and "When" (1980). He released his final album, Twilight on the Trail, in 2010 at the age of 87.

Whitman bought a lavish (but still modest by superstar standards) estate in Middleburg in 1957, calling it Woodpecker Paradise and living there for the rest of his life. Rather than being made a national shrine after Slim's passing, however, new owners inexplicably chose to tear it down in 2014, with the same disregard for history as the demolition of Jim Morrison's house in Clearwater.

Unlike many performers - especially in country music - who had a shtick or a gimmick, Slim didn't really have one. He's just this guy, you know? Like Marty Robbins, who I suspect was also profoundly influenced by Slim, he was just a nondescript nice guy (even though his sharp mustache and arched eyebrows made him look more like one of the bad guys in an old western movie) who yodeled haunting melodies in three octaves.

What, you were expecting some weird, wild angle or some wacky, crazy anecdote? There isn't one. Slim Whitman just rules, that's all. And if you didn't know, now you've been told. Thank you and goodnight.

(Other favorite Slim sides: "The Wayward Wind", "Pearly Shells", "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain", "From a Jack to a King", and the first Slim 45 I had as a child, "Birmingham Jail". And then there's this.)

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