*Sometimes you can pick up a book, and just can’t seem to put it down. Sweetback Blues by Kari Fretham (Lulu Publishers 2011) is one such book. It’s a tale of world-renowned Bluesman Henry Harris, aka Southside Slim. Fretham tells the story in the voice of the character which adds to the depth of the struggles of a young Black male growing up in Oakland, California with a bent for music, but in an atmosphere where the odds were against him in pursuit of his dream.
Southside Slim’s struggles mirror the drama of many young Black males of his era who were only encouraged to get a “real job” in his circle of influence. Choosing music over good-paying manual labor was just not considered practical. The story unfolds in a crafty twelve bar structure like a typical Blues song that consists of twelve measures (bars) in 4/4 rhythm following a I, IV, V chord progression. Fretham incorporates Slim’s down-to-earth voice as if he were onstage, guitar in hand, reflecting over his life in a real time setting.
Slim who has performed around the world and in film has played with the best of them like Buddy Guy, and Smokey Wilson, as well as some lesser-knowns of equal caliber who frequently perform in juke joints like Franklin Bell’s located in Southside Los Angeles (thus the name Southside Slim). So far he has eight CD releases to his credit and has a huge following as indicated on his website: www.SouthSideSlim.com
Fretham has numerous associations/affiliations in the mainstream Blues community, including the Blues Foundation, the Southern California Blues Society, Living Blues Magazine, national and international Blues publications, Blues radio and many others. She writes in the preface: “I noticed blues for the first time as a distinct sound in the mid-eighties when B.B. King seduced me in a NapaValley art gallery. His electronic wooing [from ‘Lucille’ no doubt] laid a love on me so strong that I had trouble choosing any music other than the blues ever after.”
An excerpt from the book: “One night after I got my guitar, I was stoned and sat cryin’ at the end of my bunk bed in my mother’s house. Prayin’ to God that he would let Jimi Hendrix’ spirit come into me. ‘God please let the spirit of Jimi Hendrix come into me…everything as I was growing up: the Black Panthers, the militancy, the music were all mixed together growing inside me. It all culminated in that one prayer, that euphoric moment. I wanted it so bad.”
Sweetback Blues is a paperback, double-spaced book of 580 pages that I highly recommend. It can be purchased through the author’s website, karifretham.com, or at www.amazon.com, as well as select retail outlets in the Los Angeles area. Please call (310) 795-1329 for further information. The author will be on hand at the Black Writers On Tour Conference Saturday, April 21, 2012 at the JMM Community Center in Carson,California from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Steuben Pub) www.amazon.com. Available at Smiley’s Bookstore in Carson CA, Skylight Books, Los Angeles, and Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara CA. Visit the author at www.larrybuford.com. (213) 220-8101