The Fraternal Order of the Society Blues

The Fraternal Order of the Society Blues

a tribute to the Life and Music of Carolina Slim (aka Elijah Staley)

Do Lord

“Soulful, tuneful songs that the people can understand.” That’s how Carolina Slim described his Blues. Known and loved throughout New York City for his performances in the subway system as part of the MTA Music Under New York program, Elijah Staley was one of the last of the great Piedmont Blues artists. Born in 1926 in Denmark, South Carolina, Staley was as young as one could be and still have been born into the Blues: a family of Black farmers, intergenerational music making, the Church, and a phonograph blasting the music of Buddy Moss and Blind Boy Fuller. Staley’s life journey took him around the world, first as a Sergeant in the Korean War and later landing in New York City where he raised his family and forged his music career. After working for decades as a session drummer in R&B dance bands, Staley reinvented himself in his later years, reviving his boyhood nickname Carolina Slim and focusing on the rural guitar music he raised up on.

Electric Acoustic Piedmont Society Blues. These were the words emblazoned on the municipally issued banner Carolina Slim proudly flew every time he played in the subway. The words conjure the image of a brave synthesis, standing on the line between the acoustic Piedmont sounds of the past and the Electric sounds of urban life. For us, his young protégés, the Society Blues was our community, a secret society of acolytes devoted to the wisdom of our teacher. For in addition to being a masterful musician, Carolina Slim was a great bearer of wisdom that he distributed generously during drives across the expanse of Queens, on subway platforms and on epic late night phone conversations.

When Carolina Slim left this mortal coil on February 16, 2014, we decided to keep his music going. The Fraternal Order of the Society Blues debuted on WKCR radio in New York City a few days after the funeral. A trio of three of his most prominent students, The Fraternal Order of the Society Blues extends the music of Carolina Slim into the future.

Jeremiah Lockwood (guitar and voice) began to play with Carolina Slim at the tender age of 14. The music of his band The Sway Machinery has been heard in Festivals around the world. Jeremiah continues the education he began with Carolina Slim at Stanford University, where he recently completed his PhD in Education and Ethnomusicology. Ernesto “Lover Cat” Gomez (harmonica and voice) was just in his 20s when he began to accompany Carolina Slim. Ernesto’s band Brotherhood of the Jug is a mainstay of the Brooklyn folk scene. The elder statesmen in the trio, Ricky “Dirty Red” Gordon (washboard and voice), has had a long and storied career as a performer with Wynton Marsalis and as a composer and actor collaborating with iconic filmmaker Spike Lee. Once on a gig underground in a NYC subway station with Carolina Slim, Ricky brought a huge drum set. Afterwards Mr. Slim said, Ricky you need to lighten your load (of the drum set) and from that day on he began playing the washboard.

2014 Memorial Broadcast

Carolina Slim memorial broadcast, recorded on “Something Inside of Me” on 02/24/14. Live set performed by Carolina Slim’s students and friends: Jeremiah Lockwood (guitar and vocals), Ricky “Dirty Red” Gordon (drums and washboard), and Ernesto Gomez (harmonica).

Elijah Staley, also known as Carolina Slim, was born in Denmark, South Carolina in 1927. Carolina Slim was an influential Piedmont blues musician and was well-known for his underground performances on the New York City subway. He passed away this year, at age 87.

Click here to listen to the memorial broadcast recordings