South Side SlimSweetback Blues: The Twelve Bar Tale of South Side Slim travels the harrowing streets and plumbs the artistic soul of a modern day soldier for the blues. Far from some pat redemption yarn of "poor boy makes good," the protagonist here is as unsettling as his folk predecessor, John the Conqueror: unruly saint and endearing trickster. Beautifully written in twelve bar structure, complete with introductory riffs and turnarounds, this narrative nonfiction echoes the very music it celebrates. The bluesman typically sings his seven-stanza story in first person; likewise, these seven chapters get personal in the distinctive voice of Los Angeles blues veteran, South Side Slim. Over one hundred hours of recorded interviews were transcribed, verified, and distilled into eighty-eight bars, vignettes, of page-turning drama.

Hailed "the formidable guitar modernist" by Living Blues magazine, Slim has recently toured in Italy, Britain, and Germany.

Excerpts from Sweetback Blues

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Introduction: Layin' Down the Groove

Chapter One
Me and my cousin burned my grandma's house down. Three years old at the time. That's my earliest memory. I was born on September 7, 1957. But there was a controversy about that. The midwife who came out there to Mer Rouge, Louisiana, took a while to get over to Monroe to record my birth at the courthouse. My birth certificate has October 5th.

My dad says me and Michael was alone. Everyone was out on a Friday night in November of 1960. Michael was in charge, bein' he was five.

My mother had gone to California in June of that year. She says she doesn't remember ever hearin' about a fire. She went out there to find a job and a place to live. I can't picture my mother in any memories from Louisiana. In fact, I can't picture my dad in Louisiana either.

Me, my younger sister, Jessica, the baby, Dennis, and my two older brothers, Donald and Dwight, not from my dad, were stayin' with different relatives after my mother left.

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Lovin' the Blues South L.A. Style
By Kari Fretham

Kari Fretham Book Signing"I am giving my life to the blues." My declaration, made while hiking the Paseo Miramar fire trail above Malibu in the fall of 2001, not only surprised my friend, but frankly, it was news to me. Although not sure what this anointing would look like, I was eager to submit.

There were early signs on the farm in Minnesota that this raunchy, heartfelt music would take over my life. Few memories predate the conviction that my Creator, finished with everything inside, tossed a coin for the final skin decision. Heads black. Tails white. Tails it was, so into the Scandinavian north I landed.

One generation from Sweden, Mom insisted that top volume Mahalia Jackson wake us Sunday mornings, and when Amosandra was born on the Amos 'n' Andy radio show within a year of my own birth, she arrived via Montgomery Ward mail order to rarely leave my side...

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Reviews of Sweetback Blues: The Twelve Bar Tale of South Side Slim, February 1, 2012

Sometimes you can pick up a book, and just can’t seem to put it down. Sweetback Blues by Kari Fretham (Lulu Publishers 2011) is one such book. It’s a tale of world-renowned Bluesman Henry Harris, aka Southside Slim. Fretham tells the story in the voice of the character which adds to the depth of the struggles of a young Black male growing up in Oakland, California with a bent for music, but in an atmosphere where the odds were against him in pursuit of his dream.

Southside Slim’s struggles mirror the drama of many young Black males of his era who were only encouraged to get a “real job” in his circle of influence. Choosing music over good-paying manual labor was just not considered practical. The story unfolds in a crafty twelve bar structure like a typical Blues song that consists of twelve measures (bars) in 4/4 rhythm following a I, IV, V chord progression. Fretham incorporates Slim’s down-to-earth voice as if he were onstage, guitar in hand, reflecting over his life in a real time setting.

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Congratulations on the book about South Side Slim. I just finished reading it and loved it!! I know you put a lot of time and effort into it and it was certainly worth it. I found myself laughing out loud many times. But also was very touched by many sections.

I wish you all the best in promoting and sorry I couldn't make the book signing.

All the Best;
Willie McNeil
(drummer on 'Life Under Pressure'.)



Dear Kari,
I finally finished your book about South Side Slim. I can't believe the time you put into writing this; I can, however, believe the hours you spent with Henry taping his memories.

Since this was his story, your job was getting him to open up, which during our talks last year in the butterfly garden, wasn't always difficult. However, you pushed him to remember, to talk about the pain, the difficulties, as well as the triumphs of his life. This isn't so easy as it sounds.

I was also surprised by the hours it must have taken to put all of his rambling conversations, covering his whole life, into a narrative that flowed from the pages into my mind. That's no easy task! Also, just putting his entire life into the 12 bar format of a "true blues song" (according to Miss Laura, it MUST be REAL blues) was ingenious. It just astounds me that from loving the "blues" you became so involved that, other than meeting many important people in the blues community, you actually evolved so much that you were able to create this biography in true blues form.

Almost everyone in Henry's life became a friend (or, in a few cases, a foe) to me, the reader. You were able to weave the history of blues as well as the history of the blues in Los Angeles into the narrative. You were able to convey Henry's deep and abiding faith, without judgment of his "colorful" language and sometime lascivious behavior.

My only problem with the entire book, which as a literary critic, I have to say (though it's really not called for) was too much of the book was spent on Vanessa. I would have liked to know more details of the associations with those influential musicians that came at the end of the book; some of these relationships seemed rushed. And, since you were basically editing and retelling Henry's story, he might just not have spent that much time talking about that. It may just be that where he was "hung up" is where the narrative was "hung up." No fault; no blame. That, my dear, is my only criticism. And that might reflect more on Henry than on you.

I am so proud of you. Writing this book was quite an accomplishment. I'm glad I could live a small part of it with you.

Yours always,



Hello Kari,
My wife, Susan Cambigue-Tracey, came home with your book a couple of months ago, all inscribed - to me as well! I read it and enjoyed it thoroughly.

It was so easy to read. Being of English background, I'm not sure if I would have understood what Slim was telling you! But you made it simple for me to understand and yet kept the flavor of his language. I wonder how tricky that was.

Such widely spaced lines! It may have made the book even heavier than it was - but made it so easy not to lose my place on the page. A great story. So candid. So poignant. What an amazing, long labor of love! Thank you both!

Paul Tracey
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