The legend of Root Boy Slim
The crazy life and untimely death of a larger-than-life blues enigma
Published: May 7, 2014
“You wouldn’t believe how many times I got laid because of Root Boy Slim,” Al Hewgley says with a slight chuckle. Hewgley, a musician who lives in Rockledge, Fla., was a longtime fan of Root Boy Slim, the enigmatic blues musician who was once described by Rolling Stone as “the hippest thing to happen to Washington [D.C.] since Nixon resigned.” He befriended Slim after acing a 1990 audition to play bass in Slim’s band, and he was also the late singer’s landlord at his final residence in Orlando. “Girls would find out, ‘Oh, you know Root?’ … and then one thing would lead to another. Yeah, it was wild.”
Residual sex as a result of being in the orbit of an unlikely rock star isn’t necessarily surprising, but it does seem odd when you consider Root Boy Slim, the perpetually overweight and terminally haggard late bluesman. Slim, who originally hailed from Asheville, N.C., but ended up moving to Orlando in 1993, wasn’t exactly a matinee idol. In fact, he was often mistaken for a retired pro wrestler (so much so that the singer eventually began telling people he had once been a wrestler). His music – boozy, brash blues capped with risible lyrics conveying total loserdom, delivered via Slim’s two-pack-a-day vocals – wasn’t the type to inspire raw lust, either. His song titles, which include “My Wig Fell Off,” “Heartbreak of Psoriasis,” “Dozin’ & Droolin’” and “Inflatable Doll,” didn’t exactly suggest a Bowie-like god.
In fact, people were often caught off guard by the number of female fans who turned up to see the self-proclaimed Duke of Puke in action. Hewgley distinctly remembers the first time he saw Slim play, when the singer and his Sex Change Band opened for the Ramones and the Runaways at Orlando’s Great Southern Music Hall on March 2, 1978.
“I got there and there were all these good-lookin’ girls in Root Boy shirts,” he says. “I thought, ‘What the heck is that about?’ Then Root came out, and I was blown away. He was wearing a devil costume and stalking around the stage. … It was great, and the band was amazing, too.”
His songs – funny, relatable slices of self-deprecation with hot, Southern-fried licks to boot – helped Slim prove Freaks and Geeks’ Harris Trinsky’s adage: Get a woman laughing and you’ll get a woman loving.
Of course, Root Boy Slim was not every woman’s cup of tea.
“Backstage after the show, Root was trying to pick up [Runaways guitarist] Joan Jett,” Hewgley remembers, “and man, she just wanted nothing to do with him.”
Root Boy Slim entered the world July 9, 1945, as Foster MacKenzie III, a name befitting his tony Asheville, N.C., surroundings. The MacKenzies soon moved their firstborn to the D.C. suburbs, and it quickly became clear that their son (Kenny, as they called him) was a sharp, intuitive child. He also had a dangerously wild streak, which is probably why he bounced around so many of the area’s prestigious prep schools. Somehow, Slim managed to wrangle a scholarship to Yale, but academia wasn’t in his heart. As a result, he spent more time hunched over a pool table in New Haven than he did in class.
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