Slack was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin. He learned to play drums as a boy. Later he took up the xylophone, and at the age of 13 he changed to the piano. He studied with a local teacher throughout high school. At the age of 17 he moved with his parents to Chicago, where he continued his musical training. He met Rosy McHargue, a well-known clarinetist, who took him to hear many leading musicians, including Bix Beiderbecke and Earl Hines. His first job was with Johnny Tobin at the Beach View Gardens. He later moved to Los Angeles, where he worked with Henry Halstead, Earl Burtnett and Lennie Hayton, before joining Ben Pollack in 1934. He played with the Jimmy Dorsey Band in the 1930s and was a charter member of the Will Bradley Orchestra when it formed in 1939. Known to bandmates as "Daddy Slack," he played the piano solo on Bradley's recording of "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar", one of the early white boogie-woogie hits and a classic of the Big Band era. He formed his own band in 1942 and signed with the newly founded Capitol Records. He recorded three songs at his third recording session for Capitol, on May 21, 1942. His recording of "Cow Cow Boogie," sung by the 17-year-old Ella Mae Morse, was the second record Capitol issued on July 1, and by July 25 it had reached number 1 on the Hit Parade. It was Capitol's first gold single. T-Bone Walker was a member of Slack's band from 1942 to 1944 and Slack later accompanied Walker on his first solo recording for Capitol, "Mean Old World". This band also had a hit with "Strange Cargo." Slack continued to record with Capitol until at least 1950, recording some 80 tracks for the label. Slack also recorded as an accompanist for Big Joe Turner, Johnny Mercer, Margaret Whiting and Lisa Morrow. His 1955 album Boogie Woogie on the 88 featured a horn section including jazz musicians Shorty Sherock and Herbie Harper among others, and with arrangements by Benny Carter. He also co-wrote the 1945 classic "The House of Blue Lights" first recorded with singer Ella Mae Morse, and later by Chuck Miller, The Andrews Sisters, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Freddie Slack Biography by Scott Yanow
Freddie Slack was a part of two hit records during the swing era, making his mark on jazz history. Originally a drummer, he switched to piano soon after moving to Chicago in 1927. Slack worked early on with Johnny Tobin. After moving to Los Angeles in 1931, he appeared with bands led by Henry Halstead, Earl Burtnett, Archie Rosate, and Lennie Hayton. Slack gained some recognition for his playing with Ben Pollack (1934-1936) and Jimmy Dorsey (1936-1939). As a key piano soloist with Will Bradley & His Orchestra during 1939-1941, Slack was well showcased on the famous recording of "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar" that helped launch the boogie-woogie fad. Slack was a key voice on many other Bradley recordings in the same vein; he also played quite effectively on some Big Joe Turner records. In 1942 Slack formed his own orchestra, which soon scored with the very successful "Cow Cow Boogie" and "Strange Cargo." Initially featuring singer Ella Mae Morse, for a short time Freddie Slack & His Orchestra were one of the more popular swing big bands, appearing in several films and recording for Capitol during 1942-1947. Freddie Slack was based in California in the 1950s and '60s, but he faded from the spotlight at the end of the 1940s, recording a final small-group album for EmArcy in 1955.