The legend of Root Boy Slim
The crazy life and untimely death of a larger-than-life blues enigma
Published: May 7, 2014
“He knew a lot of people found him repulsive,” noted Sex Change saxophonist Ron Holloway after Slim died. “And he took great pleasure in that.”
On Nov. 7, 1991, Root Boy Slim and some friends were in the studio working on some new material when the news broke that basketball legend Magic Johnson was HIV-positive. For the remainder of the session, Slim’s band begged him to write a song about Magic Johnson’s HIV crisis. The singer refused, but his pals were relentless. Finally, he broke down.
“Gimme that harmonica!” he hollered. He started honking and spitting out lyrics. The results destroyed the room.
“It was incredible,” remembers Hewgley. “That song was funny as hell, but also touching. Probably more funny than touching. We wanted to do it again the next day, but Root couldn’t remember it. Or he said he couldn’t remember it. But that’s what the guy was like. I hope all the stuff he recorded that remains unreleased comes out, because it’s all amazing. Just like the Magic Johnson song.”
A Root Boy Slim discography
“Xmas at K-Mart” 7-inch (1978)
A throbbing, spacey description of the holiday scene in retail hell. Probably the best Christmas song ever written; definitely the most American Christmas song ever written.
Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band With the Rootettes (1978)
The squalid, dirty and bleary-eyed debut full-length. Slim doesn’t get through the first tune without coughing his brains up, and you love him for it. Yes, there is an entire song about his mood ring.
“Meltdown” 7-inch (1979)
Root’s Three Mile Island anthem. Quoth Slim: “You gotta have some chump on the safety pump!”
Just enough polish to really shine. Contains the live favorite “Do the Gator,” the unabashedly pro-pot “Ignite It” and the unabashedly pro-chub “Dare to Be Fat.” As far as party records go, you can’t do much better.
Dog Secrets (1983)
Root experiments with ska and New Wave elements, giving us lots of frenetic fun. He also turns in one of his most heartfelt vocal performances on rubbery love ode “Inflatable Doll.”
Don’t Let This Happen to You (1986)
Softer, almost haunting, but still undeniably Root (see “When You Date the Undead,” “I Fell Down”).
Left for Dead (1987)
The “spontaneous live blues” album recorded in one take in 1979. CD reissue includes the very 1979-specific track “The Shah Is Gone.”
Root 6 (1991)
Root’s weakest is still a hot jam, especially when he declares he wants “Sex With a Capital X.”
The best of Root Boy Slim on YouTube
“Live for Tonight” (1979)
Slim takes a stab at disco and incapacitates it.
“Bus Station Blues” (1979)
Anyone who’s taken Greyhound can relate.
“Pizza Hut Woman” (1982)
Root’s searing tribute to a 40-something fast-food employee.
“Rhythm Pill” (1982)
Jittery honker that probably would have been a chart-topper had Gary Numan adapted it.
“Assholes From Nashville” (1990)
A sendup of defensive anti-Yankee country songs. “Well, they say that we’re here in Nashville, bunch of assholes, and they should turn the Opry into a pay toilet …”
> Email James Greene Jr.