Details regarding the life of territory band leader Slim Lamar are scarce, and there doesn’t appear to be any biography of him available on the web. As such, I’ve rewritten and republished this article in an effort to shed some light on the obscure musician’s life. A special thanks goes out to Messrs. Joseph Scott and Paul Lindemeyer for their research on Lamar, without which this article would not have been possible.
Slim was in fact Henry Elbert Lamar, born in Galveston, Texas on October 27, 1905, the son of John and Lucille Lamar. By the 1920s, the Lamars had taken up residence in the cradle of jazz, New Orleans. Slim played reeds, and apparently moonlighted selling musical instruments. At least as early as 1927, Lamar was leading the Southerners, an exceptional territory jazz band which included the talents of Tony Almerico and Sunny Clapp among its ranks. He would seem to have been associated with the cabal of influential territory band leaders that included Clapp and Blue Steele. In September of 1927, the Southerners played the Edgewater Gulf Hotel in Biloxi, Mississippi, and made their first recordings a year later, during a Victor field trip in Memphis, Tennessee. While in Memphis, Lamar also recorded with Mart Britt’s orchestra, and may have accompanied Irene Beasley on one session that yielded no issued recordings. Following those sessions, Lamar’s Southerners ventured to Indianapolis for a two week engagement at the Indiana Roof Ballroom, reported in the Indianapolis Star as the band’s first trip north of the Mason-Dixon Line. After Indianapolis, they played at the Egyptian Room of the Kosair Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Lamar’s band recorded several more sides in February of 1929 in Camden, New Jersey, after which Slim Lamar is not known to have made any further recordings. In 1938, he relocated to Florence, Alabama, where he married Edna Reams and started the Lamar Furniture Company. Henry “Slim” Lamar remained in Florence until his death on June 3, 1989.
In the 1930s, Henry Lamar’s younger brother Ewell Ayars Lamar (1911-1992), a pianist known as the “Greyhound of the Ivories,” took up the moniker of “Slim” and led a dance band called the Music Gentlemen in Indianapolis, which reportedly included some former members of Joe Sanders’ orchestra, and featured a vocalist named Helen Folk. Ewell had composed “My Castle of Love”, recorded by the Southerners in 1928, but not issued, and played piano in his older brother’s band in its first year.
Victor 21710 was recorded on September 6 and 4, 1928, respectively, at the Memphis Auditorium in Memphis, Tennessee, the Southerners’ first and third sessions. In the band are Tony Almerico and Irwin Kunz on cornets, Sunny Clapp on trombone, Slim Lamar and Jim Rush on clarinet and alto sax, Bedford Brown on clarinet and tenor sax, Dick Wilson on violin, Adrian J. Larroque on piano, Jack Cohen on banjo and guitar, Bonnie Pottle on string bass, and Bobby Turley on drums. The band is directed by Bob Nolan, composer of “Goofus”, and the band’s usual vocalist (though he doesn’t sing on these sides). It was issued in January of 1929.
“Goofus” was immortalized in a comic by R. Crumb, in which he describes his saga of finding the record, only to have it snatched away, leaving him hunting for years before winning a copy in an auction. He aptly descries it as “crazy, eccentric jazz.” The scat quartet is made up of Tony Almerico, Jim Rush, Dick Wilson, and Jack Cohen.
On the other side, though “Happy” may not be as well known as the previous, it doesn’t disappoint, offering an encore performance of more of this band’s unique hot style, with hot solos by Wilson and one of the cornetists, not to mention more wild bass work by that Bonnie Pottle.
This record was originally posted on August 16, 2016 in honor of cornetist Tony Almerico’s birthday. The article has been rewritten and republished with content relevant to bandleader Slim Lamar. Updated with improved audio on April 30, 2018.
Happy to help crack the case of “The Two Slims.”
I might add to the significance of Lamar’s Memphis session: it is apparently the first recorded evidence of multi-instrumentalist and arranger Lyle “Spud” Murphy (né Miko Stefanovic, the German-born Serb who Don Draper’d the identity of an Irish school chum from Salt Lake City). The peripatetic Murphy is said to be playing an oboe break on a kooky novelty called “Oriental Illusions,” another original by Bob Nolan.
Someone needs to contact me re: Slim Lamar. I can fill in many of the blanks and questions as to the groups he played in and led from 1925 to 1930.
Wow! Ayars Lamar was my grandfather and Henry (that’s what we called him) was my great-uncle). Ayars Lamar owned a supper club near Indianapolis called the Southern Mansion where my mom and her siblings lived as kids. She remembers riding her tricycle on the outside dance floor. My dad and I danced to Castle of Love at my wedding. Email me if you need more info!
“Oriental Illusions” has been taken off YouTube but can be heard here.
Originally Victor V-40049-A, recorded Sept. 22, 1928. https://app.box.com/s/ceegtrevn41z0sv5uvwt58b6ot0moske
Very cool article about my great-grandfather! Thank you so much for publishing this wonderful research on his life!!