Austin guitarist Slim Richey, a fixture in the local jazz community for more than two decades with the Jitterbug Vipers, the Dream Band and others, died Sunday after an extended battle with lymphoma. He was 77.
Known for his long white beard and for an eclectic guitar style that crossed genres from jazz to swing to country and beyond, Richey was omnipresent in local clubs since moving here in the early ’90s with his wife, upright bassist Francie Meaux Jeaux. Richey also was a regular at the region’s prime annual roots-music events, having played at nearly every Old Settler’s Music Festival and Kerrville Folk Festival.
A native of the East Texas town of Atlanta near Texarkana, Richey attended the University of Oklahoma in the 1950s and later played music in Fort Worth before he and Meaux Jeaux settled in the Driftwood area southwest of Austin. Richey played fiddle with the Jazz Pharaohs before starting up his own Dream Band, which he and Meaux Jeaux anchored on guitar and bass behind a succession of singers. In the mid-2000s, he and Meaux Jeaux backed rising singer Kat Edmonson in the group Kat’s Meow, helping to launch Edmonson’s career before she moved to New York.
The couple’s most recent group, the Jitterbug Vipers, played frequently at local venues such as the Elephant Room and C-Boy’s Heart & Soul. The group was one of 20 local acts nominated for a grant from local arts patronage organization Black Fret in 2014 and performed for its November gala at the Paramount Theatre.
2013 saw the release of the Vipers’ second album, “Phoebe’s Dream,” which followed 2012’s “Tell ‘Em Joe Sent You.” Just before that record’s release, Richey was injured in a hit-and-run incident on East Sixth Street after performing at the Volstead Lounge. He recovered and returned to performing, continuing to do so even after the onset of lymphoma required chemotherapy treatments last year.
One of Richey’s last recordings was a version of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” with Jitterbug Vipers singer Sarah Sharp that was intended for an upcoming album. The track highlights Richey’s graceful and creative style.