Ballinger plays new blues with an old-school

Ben Plassard

Mississippi blues comes to Ohio

Slick Ballinger learned to play the blues by living the blues. He spent a summer in Mississippi, learning from blues legend Othar Turner. PHOTO COURTESY OF OH BOY RECORDS

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

The spirit of traditional Mississippi blues is alive and well in Slick Ballinger.

Ballinger, a 21-year-old blues guitarist and singer, has done much more than just learn to play the blues since he first picked up a guitar seven years ago. He has learned to live it.

Now Ballinger is bringing his blues on the road and will play Wilbert’s in Cleveland on Friday.

Slick Ballinger

Where? Wilbert’s, 812 Huron Road, Cleveland

When? Friday, 8 p.m.

How much? $7

For more information: (216) 902-4663

Born in Clayton, N.C., Ballinger fell in love with the blues early in life and credits hearing them in a movie as the moment he first knew he wanted to play them.

Inspired by blues legends such as Muddy Waters and Son House, Ballinger first picked up a guitar at age 15 and taught himself the basics of guitar playing. Ballinger said it was then he realized he must not only play the blues, he had to live it as well.

Ballinger started making trips to Mississippi to learn more about music from old time, old soul delta blues legends, many of whom have never been recorded and are among Ballinger’s favorites.

By the time he turned 18, Ballinger had already shared the stage with delta blues legends such as Pinetop Perkins and Othar Turner. According to Ballinger, t he latter would shape his life and the way he looked at the blues forever.

“I met Othar Turner at a picnic out in the country in Mississippi,” Ballinger said. “He showed me what country life is like and how the good Lord works. He showed me the spirit of the blues.”

This education from Turner was much more than a music lesson. Ballinger spent the entire summer of 2002 with the 94-year-old Turner, a Mississippi blues legend.

Turner, according to Ballinger’s press release, was a master of the drum and fife blues tradition of the 1800s. This style of blues is made up of simple drums accompanied by a fife, or homemade flute. Turner took in Ballinger and the two lived a country lifestyle that, according to Ballinger, would drive most people crazy.

“We had no running water, no electricity and no bathroom,” Ballinger said. “We would get up every morning at 5:30 and work outside and at night we would go play at parties or juke joints.”

This education, Ballinger said, influenced not only his music but his soul. Ballinger moved to Mississippi to be closer to the blues and the local blues players, thus continuing his


“He moved to Mississippi to get to the roots of blues to see what the slaves went through, to get to the real blues,” said Josh Swann, a representative of Oh Boy Records, Ballinger’s label. “The old folks taught him the blues. It was in his blood and they showed him how to use it.”

Ballinger began to blaze his own trail in the world of blues. He won the 2002 Cape Fear Blues Challenge and finished as a top finalist at the 2003 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. In the 2004 International Blues Challenge, Ballinger took second place and won the Albert King Award for most promising guitarist. He has since opened for B.B. King twice and now is on his own national tour.

On his current tour, Ballinger said he just wants everyone to let loose and have a good time, especially the younger crowd.

“We don’t hold nothin’ back,” Ballinger said. “The music is countrified, Mississippi backwoods blues, juke joint blues and there ain’t nothing fancy about it. It’s a feeling thing.”

Ballinger’s new album, Mississippi Soul, will be released on March 14 on Oh Boy Records.

Contact off-campus entertainment reporter Ben Plassard at [email protected].