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MUSIC | ROCKTALK

Playing on Instinct

Harmonica musician from Lynwood brings his distinctive style to Cozy's.

June 25, 1998|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although bluesman Lynwood Slim lives in relative obscurity in North Hollywood, it's a different story when he goes to Europe.

"Over in Europe, people line up to see me," Slim said. "Here, I'm just a meatball--a well-done meatball."

Slim, a.k.a. Richard Duran, grew up in the Lynwood community of Los Angeles, but during the course of his musical career has lived in many places, including Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Orange County.

"I like it much better here in North Hollywood than Orange County," said Slim, who's playing at Cozy's on Saturday night. "Music's what saved me from a life of total obscurity," Slim said. "I've sacrificed everything just to play."

Growing up in Lynwood, Slim was exposed to all the pop music people his generation enjoyed. Additionally, the young man regularly went to the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach to hear jazz with his father. But Slim first glimpsed the future the night he saw Muddy Waters perform at the old Ash Grove on Melrose Avenue. He was about 15.

A moment of enlightenment followed. "I was sitting on a bus bench in downtown L.A., I was thinking about the future and I all of a sudden decided I'd be a musician, a harmonica player," Slim remembers. "I went home to tell my grandfather and he said, 'That's the stupidest thing I ever heard in my life.' "

Grandpa's opinion notwithstanding, Slim took up the blues harp, or harmonica, and began serving his apprenticeship in the music clubs of Lynwood, Compton, South Gate and surrounding areas.

"Music has played a big part of my life, but no one has given me anything," Slim said." I've had to hustle everything myself."

Still, he learned from harp masters such as Charlie Musselwhite and Walter Horton. And soon he was working all over Los Angeles and later San Francisco. But with the rise of disco in the mid-1970s, Slim departed for the Midwest--Minneapolis and Chicago.

He returned to California in the early 1990s, settling in Orange County and hooking up with guitarist Junior Watson and others. He left there for some brief stays in New York and Chicago, and now he's in North Hollywood and likes it. Over the years, his playing has changed, and he likes that too.

"Over the last 12 years, I've been getting more sophisticated," Slim said. He plays more swing and more jazzy-type solos with sharps and flats, using a chromatic harmonica. "Playing the chromatic takes the dedication of a Trappist monk," Slim adds.

The four or five CDs he's recorded are only available as European imports. And he works regularly with Watson, Kid Ramos and many others on their recordings.

"My playing is what it is, whether it's good or bad," Slim said. "I don't play like anyone else, I don't sound like anyone else. I've strived for that."

* Lynwood Slim performs Saturday night at Cozy's Bar & Grill, 14058 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 986-6000.

*

Folk Rock: Big Dumb Love, a lyrical folk-rock ensemble that comes in two convenient sizes, is having a CD release party Friday at Common Grounds in Northridge.

In smaller clubs, Big Dumb Love is guitarist Erik Erickson, singer-songwriter Ashley Gough and guitarist Barbara Tanner. In larger clubs, Big Dumb Love can get downright huge by adding a rhythm section--drummer Tammy Levine and bassist Andrew Acalinovich.

The larger unit will play at Common Grounds.

So, why the name Big Dumb Love?

"It started out as a lyric in a song," said lyricist Gough. "It's about being all wrapped up in a bad relationship."

The band is based in Marina del Rey where Erickson and Gough live on a sailboat ("the cheapest place to live in L.A.," according to Erickson). Big Dumb Love released its CD, "Proper Distance," on its own label, Ooowawa Records.

"People tell me it's easy to get a record deal, but hard to get a good record deal," Erickson said. "So we do it all by ourselves."

And it's a lot of work.

"I'm on the phone all day, and then at rehearsals at night and then more phone calls," Erickson said.

While Erickson spends his time as a record company executive, Tanner and Gough have day gigs--as a teacher and office manager, respectively.

Big Dumb Love recently played for some of Tanner's students at Olive Vista Middle School in Sylmar. "The group's been middle school-tested," Tanner said. "The kids liked us and they don't usually like anything."

* Big Dumb Love plays Friday at Common Grounds, 9250 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, (818) 882-3666.

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