Thomas Hoyt “Slim” Bryant passed away in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, on May 28. He was 101 years old. Slim Bryant was born in Atlanta, the son of Posey and Auroria Bryant, a fiddler and guitarist. As a young man, he followed his father into the electric industry, and studied at Georgia Tech, but Atlanta of the late 1920s and early ‘30s was a hotbed of country music, and Slim, a guitarist, was soon performing and touring with many of that region’s great musicians. He performed with the Skillet Lickers, played with Elmer McMichen’s string band over Atlanta’s WSB, and in 1931 became a member of Clayton McMichen’s Georgia Wildcats. Bryant was with McMichen’s Georgia Wildcats when they recorded for Columbia in the fall of 1931, the same session at which the Skillet Lickers cut their final recordings.
In 1932, Jimmie Rodgers summoned Clayton McMichen to participate in a recording session for Victor, and at McMichen’s invitation, Bryant came along. During the session, Bryant played his composition “Mother, Queen of My Heart” for Rodgers and A&R man Ralph Peer. They recorded it, and it became a hit for Jimmie Rodgers. Bryant again recorded with Rodgers a couple of weeks later, in what would turn out to be the Singing Brakeman’s last recording session.
McMichen’s Georgia Wildcats played their jazz-inflected music on radio stations throughout the Midwest and East all through the 1930s. When Clayton McMichen departed from the group, it continued without him, now simply called the Georgia Wildcats, with Bryant its leader.
In 1940 Slim followed his brother Loppy to Pittsburgh, where the band had played for several radio stints. Settling there, the Georgia Wildcats played on 50,000-watt KDKA. They had a regular fifteen-minute show on the station during the War, and later were broadcast regularly over NBC. The band, whose name was now further truncated to the Wildcats, became a beloved institution on Pittsburgh’s airwaves. They continued to record during these years, and in 1946 released a recording of what would become one of Bryant’s most famous original songs, “Eeny Meeny Dixie Deeny.” When Pittsburgh’s first commercial TV station went on the air in early 1949, Slim and the Wildcats were on hand to play. Landing a regular spot on the station, the Wildcats were local TV stars, playing country, Western, jazz, and even polka music—what Bryant described as “country music with a beat”—until 1960.
As his broadcast career came to a close, and the Wildcats disbanded, Bryant and his wife opened a card shop in Dormont, Pennsylvania. By offering guitar lessons at the shop, he continued to be a mainstay on Pittsburgh’s musical scene, and taught generations of area guitarists. Until quite recently he was still playing and teaching music, and was always happy to share his memories with his fans and enthusiasts of country music history.