Vout! Meet Slim Gaillard

Slim GaillardIn a gathering of people even younger than I, when I mentioned Slim Gaillard three of them said in unison, “Who?”

“Flat Foot Floogie,” I explained, “Cement Mixer, Putti Putti,” “Matzoh ball Oroony,” and—just to make sure they understood—”Poppity Poppity Poppity Pop Go De Motorcycle.”

Their blank stares made me realize that there must be other folks in the 21st century in need of remedial cultural education. We’ll begin with an audiovisual aid.

That was Slim Gaillard on The Tonight Show. The music as he walked off was the theme during Steve Allen’s tenure as host of the program, so it was probably the mid-1950s. By then, Gaillard had behind him a couple of decades of success that began in the late ’30s with Slim and Slam, a duo of Gaillard and bassist Slam Stewart. Their big hits were “Flat Foot Floogie” and “Cement Mixer,” novelties executed with superb musicianship. Columbia’s The Groove Juice Special CD has 20 of their recordings. Later, Gaillard teamed with another bassist, Bam Brown. Their Laughing In Rhythm: The Best of the Verve Years has several tracks that include the great bop pianist Dodo Marmarosa and such other guests as Ben Webster, Dick Hyman, Ray Brown and Milt Jackson. Slim Gaillard at Birdland 1951 is a collection of performances when he was a regular at the New York club, with Art Blakey, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Terry Gibbs, Brew Moore and others sitting in.

Well aware of Gaillard’s musicianship, the fathers of bebop, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, were happy to be guests on his recording session in Los Angeles on December 29, 1945. Gaillard is the pianist and raconteur, Jack McVea the tenor saxophonist, with Bam Brown on bass with Zutty Singleton playing drums in this blues titled “Slim’s Jam.”

Accurate information about Gaillard’s earliest years is hard to come by. This WikipediaSlim Gaillard old article seems to have what is available. If you would like to sample Gaillard’s extensive output of recordings, YouTube has dozens of them. Go here. In his later years, Gaillard sometimes worked as an actor in television shows including Marcus Welby M.D., Charlie’s Angels and Mission Impossible. He continued to appear in clubs in the US and Great Britain. He died in London in 1991 at age 75.

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    • Mark Gaillard says

      Great to see you educating young people about my fathers music.
      He had a very unique style and and language he developed. Thanks
      For keeping him alive.

  1. says

    When I was playing in Toronto with the Teddy Charles trio (Don Roberts on guitar), Slim arrived, booked into the other jazz club in town at the time, without his bassist and drummer. They were West Indian musicians who were applying for US citizenship, and they had found out that if the left the US, they’d have to start their application process all over again. Slim sent them back to NYC and planned to pick up a couple of Canadian musicians for his stay at the Colonial Tavern.

    Teddy got to him first, and told him we were just finishing our week at the Town Tavern, and would be happy to be his backup. Teddy’s plan was to double on vibes and drums, and we would split our pay with Don Roberts to keep the trio together. On the first night with Slim, he fell in love with Teddy’s vibes, and played a lot of duets with him. Being twice as tall as Teddy, he made great fun reaching over him to play notes on the other side, etc. That night, he said, “I want you to stay at the vibes. Let me hire a local drummer.” Teddy said, “Bill used to be a drummer, and Don can play Bill’s bass.” So I rented a drum set, and that was the way we finished Slim’s gig.

    He was such a delight… making up funny songs at the spur of the moment. A waitress dropped a tray one night, and Slim began to sing, “One cheese burger on the floor… One cheese burger on the floor… One cheese burger on the floor… pick it up! pick it up! pick it up!
    Sometimes he would announce, “Drinks on the house tonight! Drinks on the house! We got plenty ladders outside, and as soon as you pay for your drinks, you can go right out and have them up on the house!

    Another night, a party of four were taking a table near the bandstand, and Slim heard them speaking Greek. He did the rest of the set in Greek, now and then telling the rest of the audience, “Don’t worry, we just talking about cheeseburgers.” I asked him how he had become so fluent in Greek, and he told me his father, a merchant seaman, had accidentally abandoned him on a Greek island when he was very young, and he had lived there for several years. He had a dog named O’Vouty and a parakeet named O’Rooney. The word around at that time was that when he was introduced to Mickey Rooney he said, “Solid! What’s your last name?”

  2. Don Conner says

    Haha, I never caught Slim live; He was mostly a west coast guy. I bought my first Slim side at a record store (remember them?) in Greenwich Village in 1961. It was the Bird/Mcvea record you referred to. Just recently picked up a CD called Slim and His Friends: The Absolute Voutest on the Scottish “Hep” label It’s a hoot. Those who downplay his accomplishments do so at their own peril.

  3. says

    Thanks Doug for this. I was a big fan of Slim’s singing but stupidly didn’t realise what an excellent musician he was as well.

    His “Slim’s Jam” is one of my Desert Island Discs, one of those which typified jazz for me then and still does now.

  4. Bill Benjamin says

    Always great remembering Slim. Makes me want a double order of rickee voottes with some hot sauce.

  5. Stewart Turnbull says

    This brings back some happy memories. I attended two of Slim’s concert dates here in the UK…
    once in Edinburgh, where I had the good fortune of meeting and having a glass of beer with him.
    We reminisced on some of his past gems and I had the rare privilege of scatting along with him on one that we had trouble recalling. But, throughout our, ‘drinking a beer jam’, Slim kept breaking it by continually asking me, “Have you been to any of the four moons lately?”

    A matter of interest, accompanying him on this date was multi-instrumentalist Jay Thomas from Seattle. Jay played trumpet but was equally creative on all the reeds. I conversed with him the next day at a mid-day session and he said that he was keen to record an album featuring him on all the instruments, which he did do a few years later. He has since become quite a creative figure on the jazz scene.

  6. says

    I met Slim sometime in the mid-’80s when he came in from London to New York to do a local cable TV access show hosted by Al “Jazzbeaux” Collins. I took a number of photos, and may even have a videotape…..somewhere. If I ever find it, you’ll get a copy.

    PS- I know he spoke multiple languages, but is it true (what Jazzbeaux told me) that Slim also had a commercial pilot’s license? I’d believe anything about him!

    • Stewart Turnbull says

      Ray, I have a video of Slim from a BBC feature. However, like yours, it is on VHS videotape and I haven’t got round to transferring it to disc (haven’t got a clue how to do this anyway!). There is footage on YouTube from this show but only Part One. Working from memory on the contents of On Part Two: Gaillard refers to having flown fighter planes from the production line to various air bases throughout the States. No mention, (I think!) of his having a commercial license. However, there is hilarious footage of him visiting Al Collins in the Purple Grotto. Jazzbeaux Collins refers to the Mexican Bandit scene from Humphrey Bogart’s Treasure Of Seirra Madre. He talks to Slim in Mexican lingo, (“No tengo, kiensenola.etc…) Slim then answers “I Don’t gotta show you no stinkin’ badges!”

  7. Mike Davis says

    Having had the great pleasure of meeting Slim in Manchester some years ago, I can confirm he was truly “one-of-a-kind.” A fine musician, raconteur, entertainer; truly a man of many parts – not all necessarily connected.

  8. George Ziskind says

    Bill Benjamin wrote on February 7 :

    “Always great remembering Slim. Makes me want a double order of rickee voottes with some hot sauce.”

    But first, don’t forget to order a big bowl of avocado seed soup!

  9. Ken Dryden says

    Though I knew “The Flat Feet Floogie” from Fats Waller’s recording in London, I first heard Slim Gaillard’ performing his own music on the Savoy LP compilation Black California and was in stiches when I heard “Dunkin’ Bagels.”

  10. Stewart Turnbull says

    Just another memory of Slim. Whilst I was standing at the bar, just a couple of yards away from the stage, Slim was giving out with his version of ‘the bar menu’ (ice cream on toast) when a young couple entered and stood just behind me. However, the young girl wasn’t at all happy, she wanted to be somewhere else, and was whispering a strong complaint to her companion. Slim somehow noticed this and, eyes twinkling, immediately zoomed in and sang out about the beautiful girl at the bar, ‘drinking her beer and doesn’t want to be here, she should be mellow as a cello and throw a smile at her fellow’, When Slim finished his song she was helpless with laughter…

    …cut up some fine grape leaves, throw in some salt o’reennie, add a little pepper voutie in there then get a hammer and nail it to the roof and let it VOUT! for a while…