Thursday, June 29, 2023

THROWBACK THURSDAY: A Musical Salute to Slim Pickens


Today, Thursday June 29, is the birthday of Louis Burton Lindley, Jr., but most people who remember him know him by his stage name Slim Pickens.

Happy birthday, Slim!

Pickens, who died in 1983, was born in Kingsburg, Arizona in 1919. His dad was a dairy farm and young Louis took a quick interest in horses -- he allegedly got his first horse at the age of four -- and eventually was drawn to the rodeo.

According to his obituary in The New York Times, "Mr. Pickens came naturally by his ability to play saddle tramps and range bums, for before he got his first Hollywood role he had spent 20 years as a rodeo bronco buster, trick rider and clown."

According to that obit:

Mr. Pickens said that when he dropped out of school at the age of 16 to join a rodeo: ''My father was against rodeoing and told me he didn't want to see my name on the entry lists ever again. While I was fretting about what to call myself, some old boy sittin' on a wagon said, 'Why don't you call yourself Slim Pickens, 'cause that's shore what yore prize money'll be.''

Indeed, his pickins were slim in the rodeo biz for 20 years or so. But in 1950 he lucked out when film director William Keighley saw him perform at a rodeo and offered him a screen test. He was hired for Keighley's Rocky Mountain starring Errol Flynn. He played a character named "Plank."

No, Slim didn't get his name 
on the poster
He became the ultimate cowboy character actor, appearing in countless westerns, mostly as a comical sidekick. He also made a ton of t.v. appearances in shows from Annie Oakley to Circus Boy to McMillan and Wife to B.J. and The Bear.

But undoubtedly Pickens is best known for his role in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 dark political comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. There, as  B-52 pilot Major T. J. "King" Kong, he made his greatest rodeo ride of his career as , riding a nuclear bomb like a bucking bronco into eternity.

But this is a music blog, and Slim Pickens also was a recording artist -- albeit a late-blooming one. And a friend of mine -- seriously -- had a lot to do with that. 

New Mexico singer/satirist and my longtime pal Jim Terr is responsible for nearly all of Slim Pickens' slim discography.

Terr says he first met the actor in the 1970s at the Burbank Airport ("I think," Terr adds). At the time, Terr says "I couldn't even think of his name. I said, `Aren't you  in the movies?' " To which Pickens responded And "Why, I haven't been in the movies since, oh, about 9 o'clock this morning over at Warner Brothers."

Terr continued: "I immediately had the idea of trying to get him to do a line as `the Sheriff' on The Last Mile Ramblers''s song, `The Hurrier I Go.' I talked to him on the plane (we were on the same flight), and he said heck yeah."

But Terr recalled, "I had a hard time catching up with him when  he was here, hunting with his buddy [then Governor] Bruce King," who Terr notes had a voice very similar to Pickens'. " I finally buttonholed him in the men's room of the Albuquerque airport when he was departing."

He not only "buttonholed" Pickens, he recorded the old cowpoke's line right there in the Sunport restroom!

After that the idea for a Pickens album was born, and in 1977 Slim Pickens was released on Terr's Blue Canyon label. As it turned out this would be Slim's only album ever to be released, though Terr said Pickens also recorded many unreleased tracks with Willie Nelson. Pickens also recorded a Christmas song, which you'll see below.

Terr recalled Pickens cutting a bunch of local radio station IDs to promote the album): "This is Slim Pickens and when I'm in  Salt Lake I listen to [whatever the station was]." Then he turned to Terr saying "God, I hope I'm never in Salt Lake."  

Here's Slim blowing harmonica with Festus in the Dodge City Jail -- perhaps awaiting extradition to Salt Lake City -- on the beloved TV western Gunsmoke:

Slim sings a Kinky Friedman song:

The writer of this song, Guy Clark, reportedly said Slim's take on his masterpiece his favorite version:

The only other record Pickens released after his Blue Canyon album was this maudlin Christmas song in 1980 -- which I'm surprised didn't become (an ironic) smash hit on Dr. Demento's show:

Here's The Last Mile Ramblers, the band that, as I've often said, provided much of the soundtrack for my drunken college years. Slim's restroom cameo is at the end of the song:

The only other record Pickens released after his Blue Canyon album was this maudlin Christmas song in 1980 -- which I'm surprised didn't become (an ironic) smash hit on Dr. Demento's show:

Though Slim didn't appear on this song (he'd been dead for nearly 30 years), The Offspring still paid tribute to the actor's greatest moment in Dr. Strangelove:

Finally, while looking last week for Slim Pickens songs for this post, I discovered that there was another Slim Pickens, a country bluesman whose real name was Eddie Burns. Here's a song from this Slim Pickens:

Ride 'em, Slim!

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