There's a lot of shag spirit in Florida-based guitarist Sarasota Slim's blues. And not much of it is squeaky clean.
"From my perspective, really cool shag songs has to have the right rhythm plus a lot of sexual innuendo," Slim says. "You know, if you can sing the lyrics with children present, you're probably doing OK. I love all that stuff."
Slim (a.k.a. Gene Hardage) will in town this weekend with his backing combo (bass, drums, keys) for a full set and jam session on the Dock Stage at Bowens Island. Two local bluesman — singer/guitarist Nature Boy Nik and singer/harmonica wiz Andy "Smoky" Weiner — will be on stage with Slim as well as the closing event of Piccolo Spoleto's Blues on the Dock series.
"It'll be a lively jam session," Slim predicts. "After we tumble through some of old songs that we haven't done in a while, we'll get Smoky Weiner and Nik on stage with us and go from there. Nik was my initial connection to this show. It was on his recommendation that we started putting this together."
It's been such a long time since Slim has played in Charleston, he has trouble remembering the name of the Piccolo Spoleto festival itself (on the phone last week, he was certain that he was playing "Pequeño Spoleto in Beaufort").
"Back in the '80s we used to play Charleston all of the time," Slim remembers. "I'd play at the old Myskyn's on South Market Street, farther downtown at the tiny Group Therapy club, and way out on Folly Beach at the Sand Dollar. Maybe some of those audiences will make it out to Bowens Island this time around."
Slim grew up playing blues and rock guitar in the small, Gulf-coast city of Sarasota, Fla. As a young professional musician and family man, he relocated across Tampa Bay to St. Petersburg, where he established himself as a sturdy and versatile blues player, particularly through stints at Tampa's Green Iguana club.
"An old bandmate of mine used to say that there was a sort of 'swamp funk' that was indigenous to South Florida," Slim says. "He may be right. I'm not sure what it is. I simply do my thing and play as many originals as I can within it all."
In 1988, he started touring and recording as a sideman with singer/guitarist Lucky Peterson, a recording artists for the Alligator and Verve labels. Through the 1990s, Slim collaborated with Peterson and also released four albums on the Italian label Appaloosa Records.
Slim's latest collection, released on his own Possum Phono-Graphics label, is entitled Get Up Get Down. The production quality is as smooth as a freshly polished pair of bass weejun loafers and as sweaty as a tumbler of rum and Coke. There are slow-groovin' soul workouts like "Men Women" and "Last Minute Slim," John Lee Hooker-styles shuffles like "Boogie Down Low," and several gospel-tinged blues-rockers like "All Kinda Blues." Nearly all of it is shaggable.
"The title cut off the new album is a true, hardcore, Charlestonian shag song," Slim says. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to go back to Charleston."
One of the verses in the tune "Get Up Get Down" goes, "Get up, a'get down/Boogie all around this town/I said way out in Charleston, out on the Folly Beach/Deep down in Savannah, Georgia/People are doin' there, too." That's custom-made for the local champions of the official South Carolina state dance.
"I remember hearing that shag sound on the radio — the Windham Brothers Original Beach Boogie and Blues Radio Show — whenever I was in the Lowcountry," Slim says. "I'm still enamoured by that sound."