Friday, August 31, 2007

Honeyboy - the convincing bluesman

This profile in the London Telegraph of David "Honeyboy" Edwards includes three videos (David 'Honeyboy' Edwards performs Gamblin Man' --- He Plays and describes learning the guitar --- He tells stories about life on stage) and tells his story from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago to European success:

On a perfect Chicago summer afternoon, the man regarded as an oracle of Mississippi blues lore is scouring a pawn shop for a guitar case. David "Honeyboy" Edwards approaches this task with a veteran's eye, but his battered features crease when he's told I want to ask some questions.

"What's the matter?" chides his manager. "Tired of talking about yourself?" Honeyboy, a very sprightly 92, agrees that he's weary. But an English tour is on the horizon and tickets must be sold. Yet where to start? Honeyboy's a legend of Delta blues, the last man standing of pre-Second World War American music. So is he surprised to be playing the blues aged 92?

"I should have been dead 50, 60 years ago," he says. "God just wasn't ready for me. Because I used to raise hell and drink. I've had my fun!"

Fun, alongside hard times: born to sharecropping parents in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, Honeyboy began picking cotton as a small child. His grandmother told vivid stories of slavery days, and sharecropping was, in many ways, legitimised slavery, with plantation life devouring his parents. "The doctor we had was the same one that went to the mule," he says. "Working for them white folks, you have a doctor come to you about twice. If the doctor talk to your boss and say, 'Well, he ain't goin' to get well,' then the boss quit spending money on you."

Honeyboy - he attracted the nickname as a child - set out to find his fortune aged 16 by jumping a train to Memphis. This was 1931, Depression-era America, so Honeyboy joined the hoboes. Between stints of farm work he begged and rode trains. "I'd ride the rods, too, underneath, because the cops would never look down there for you. The rods are kind of rough, though. The train be running so fast it would throw rocks up and they'd hit you."

Arrested for riding a freight train, he was sentenced to 30 days' hard labour on a county farm. Barely surviving the chain gang, he returned to sharecropping briefly before setting out for good in 1932....He witnessed Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson, the musicians regarded as Delta blues founders, play his plantation. Big Joe Williams tutored him in music and hoboing; he busked with the Memphis Jug Band; befriended Howlin' Wolf when both were teenage farmhands. In 1942 Alan Lomax recorded him for the Library of Congress and in 1945 he took the teenage harmonica prodigy Little Walter to Chicago.

In Chicago Honeyboy was signed by seminal blues label Chess Records....on Monday he starts an eight-date English tour, a trek that would leave a young rocker weary. Surely the pace must make a man born in 1915 feel, well, shattered? And England is only the last stop of a 30-date journey around Europe. "Touring can be hard," he says. "Getting' up stairs is difficult. I just have to walk slow."....Honeyboy lives in Chicago's tough South Side - carjacked in 1996, he boasts of stabbing the thief ("I cut him good!") and carrying a pistol ("Crack makes them boys go crazy"). Which is perhaps why he remains such a convincing bluesman.
(Read the full story here)

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