Edwards has a legacy that almost no living musician can match, and as the last Delta bluesman still standing he's found he's in demand. In the last year alone, he's released a new album, won Grammy and Handy Awards, appeared in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and done interviews for three documentaries due out in 2009 and 2010.
With all the activity, though, Edwards finds he's often tired these days. He was in Tunica on May 8 for the Blues Music Awards, in Jackson May 9 and in Crystal Springs May 10 to play a festival on a bill that included Pinetop Perkins, one of the few musicians who can claim to know Edwards when he was a young man.
Edwards, who turns 93 on June 28, was scheduled for a day of rest upon his return to Chicago, then it's off to Europe for 10 dates. He still plays about 70 gigs a year and the calls keep coming.
Edwards learned the guitar growing up in Shaw and first started playing professionally in Memphis as a teenager. By the 1950s he had played with almost every bluesman of note - Tommy Johnson, Charlie Patton, Big Joe Williams, Sonny Boy Williamson I, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters - across the decades.
He is believed to be among the last people to have seen Robert Johnson alive and was there the night the man legend says sold his soul to the devil died from poison. Of all the great blues musicians, Johnson's shadow has proven the longest, something Edwards admits he never would have imagined 70 years ago when his friend was killed, likely by a jealous husband who poisoned Johnson's whiskey. "Robert, he was really easy, I never heard him cussing with you," Edwards said. "He was a good musician. He liked whiskey and womens, that's all."
In news related to the Delta blues, the Chicago Reader has a piece on the history of the Delta tamale (full story at the link): On the Trail of the Delta Tamale - Southern food sleuths take on the murky origins of the mother-in-law sandwich
The SFA, which is based in Oxford, Mississippi, published its Tamale Trail documentary project (tamaletrail.com), a study of the Delta tamale that includes a map, a film, and a number of oral histories. One short segment on the “Chicago Connection” features an interview with a Mississippian who sold Delta tamales here in the 60s and 70s. He mentions a southern woman who sold mother-in-laws in the suburbs at the same time, which sparked the theory that the sandwich has southern origins.
Engler says that Mexicans, Greeks, Armenians, and Poles probably all had a role in the development of the mother-in-law. But he doesn’t discount the southern influence, pointing to a 1921 Tribune article about African-American tamaleros’ efforts to unionize. “Those probably were homemade Delta tamales,” he says.
The tamales at J’s are handmade in batches of three dozen by Yoland Cannon, a native of Leland, Mississippi, who runs a construction company and drives around town advertising them on the side of his truck. He grew up with hot tamales but only learned to make them about a year ago—from a “secret” source in the south. (Based on the way he tells the rest of the story, it sounds like that might be his mother.)
“Chicago ain’t nothing but a big old Mississippi,” says Cannon, whose intended market is southern emigres who buy tamales frozen back home and bring them up south—which is to say that, at least with respect to Delta tamales, the Great Migration continues.
According to Edge, who’ll be in town with Camp Chicago, it’s been flowing backward as well. “I’m seeing the exchange between Mississippi and Chicago working both ways,” he says. “I’m seeing ‘Windy City gyros’ and Chicago hot dogs in Mississippi. It’s people in their 20s and 30s—they’re moving back home.”