R.I.P. Red Hook Slim: “He Could Make The Blues Harp Sing, Wail, Laugh Or Roar”

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RED HOOK – Friends of Red Hook Slim, a beloved local blues harpist, reached out to Bklyner to share the news of his recent death.

Red Hook Slim (Photo courtesy of Dale Fuller)

Red Hook Slim, or Louis Raiola, passed away unexpectedly late last week, according to Edna Hoover who met him in 2008 through the Brooklyn Harmonica Club. “We heard that he had a bad cold, a low fever and was feeling under the weather,”  Hoover said, adding that she had heard “he was recovering on Sunday.”

Born and raised in the Red Hook/Carroll Gardens area, Slim was living in Bensonhurst at the time of his death, according to friends. He regularly visited his mother who still lives in the area where he grew up. He worked as an inspector for the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission and retired approximately three years ago.

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Zvi Aranoff, organizer of the Brooklyn Harmonica Club, said that a writer once referred to his friend as “the enigmatic Red Hook Slim,” a description that made Slim laugh. “I don’t think he had an evil bone in his body. Even when he was depressed, he was always laughing and coming up with silly witticisms,” Aranoff recalled. “A simple, decent, honest guy who just wanted to play the blues.”

“Slim always made me laugh with his quick wit, hilarious tongue twisters, observations and responses no one else in the world ever could have come up with,” recalled friend Elaine Beery. “I’m so sorry to lose such a good person and an incredible harmonica player. I wish we could have played together more.”

Nina Malkin remembers Slim fondly, writing, “Gentleman, humorist, bluesman and all-around inspiration, Louis ‘Red Hook Slim’ Raiola will be deeply missed by his family, friends and fans—children and animals chief among them. As a harmonica player, Slim was welcomed to jam by everyone he met, from street-corner buskers to illustrious artists. As a human being, he brought incomparable wit, spark, soul and style to every gathering. He never arrived empty-handed, but the most important thing Slim came with was himself.”

Red Hook Slim often performed at Jalopy Tavern and Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook as well as other venues across the city, including Terra Blues in Greenwich Village.

1401 Slim from Dale Fuller on Vimeo.

He played in the string roots/bluegrass band Market Chords with friend Dale Fuller and in Rust Dust with Jason Stutts. “Playing blues with him was the best,” said Stutts, who knew Slim for more than ten years. “He had a natural feel for the music and played with soul. He was a one-of-a-kind person and musician.”

“Slim collected records, musical instruments, CDs and movies. He was a walking encyclopedia when it came to old movies especially cowboy movies,” Stutts continued. “If you collected any of those things, he would say, ‘Tell me what you like and if I see it, I’ll get it for you.’ About a month ago, he and I were talking about how amazing arrowheads are.  A week later he stopped by my house with an arrow head and said, ‘I found this at the flea market.'”

“Slim was always a loving, generous and kind human being. His light shined out for us all to see and feel,” said Stutts.

Red Hook Slim (Photo courtesy of Jason Stutts)

Carl Luckert was friends and musical partners with Red Hook Slim for nearly 20 years. “We were both huge fans of movies from the 1930’s and 1940’s, especially detective and comedy films,” Luckert recalls. “We would talk for hours about our favorite movies, movie history, movie stories, you name it. He especially loved the films of William Powell, Laurel and Hardy, Warren William, Chester Morris and Hopalong Cassidy.”

Luckert remembers Slim as a “terrific blues harmonica player, who played with many of the greats in the blues world, and rarely missed an opportunity for a jam session, no matter how late or inconvenient the situation was. He could make the blues harp sing, wail, laugh or roar.”

Just before his death, Slim had been working with Luckert on a blues album featuring some songs written “especially for Slim to sing.”

“Slim had an incredible voice for blues and early Jazz,” Luckert said. “His harmonica playing was powerful, imaginative, and sometimes as explosive as his laughter.”

Luckert promises to release the album in the near future. “It will be dedicated to him—my friend Red Hook Slim.”

Visitation hours are scheduled for Tuesday, September 10 from 3pm to 6pm at Cobble Hill Chapels, 171 Court Street. Mass of Christian Burial will take place on Wednesday, September 11 at 9:30am at Sacred Hearts, St. Stephen RC Church, 125 Summit Street. Burial will follow at Green-Wood Cemetery. Visit Scotto Funeral Home for more information.

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