Honeyboy Edwards

Honeyboy Edwards
Roamin’ and Ramblin’

Earwig Music CD4953

By Karen Nugent
April 2008

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Last year, I was lucky enough to be the only spectator in the Somerville Theatre during David “Honeyboy” Edwards’ sound check – well, except for the sound guys.

It was mesmerizing. He may have been 92 years old at the time, but his hands moved faster then any guitarist I have ever seen, with the possible exception of Johnny Winter in his prime.

Edwards was just as nimble-fingered during the show, which consisted simply of Honeyboy on slide guitar, with a harp player who turned out to be Michael Frank, a longtime Honeyboy admirer, and the producer of this record.

There were no drums, bass, or amps, and Honeyboy handled the vocals – just like when he first started playing some 75 years ago in the heart of the Delta.

This record, a 19-track collection mainly recorded in the 1970s and in 2007, features that same fast and dirty guitar playing, in the authentic old-school style.

And you couldn’t find anyone more authentic than Honeyboy Edwards.

He is one of the last of the Delta bluesmen to have roamed around the south (they called it “hobo-ing”) in the 1930s. In fact, Edwards was actually WITH Robert Johnson, playing at a juke joint, the night Johnson was stabbed, poisoned, or whatever eventually fatal event took place. (Honeyboy thinks a jealous boyfriend or husband slipped Johnson a dose of poison in a drink, but the cause of his death remains a mystery.)

The nearly hour-long disc is Frank’s quite successful attempt to recreate those pre-World War II settings that Honeyboy first played in – usually with just a harp player accompanying him, or sometimes just Honeyboy on guitar and rack harmonica.

But the disc has some stellar harmonica accompanists, including Big Walter Horton (from 1975,) Bobby Rush, Billy Branch, and Johnny “Yard Dog” Jones (from 2007,) Sugar Blue (James Whiting, from 1976,) and Frank, from all those years.

They are backed up in the 2007 tracks by Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on drums (the son of Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, the long-time drummer for Muddy Waters,) Paul Kaye on guitar, and Rich Sherry on washboard.

Honeyboy plays guitar and rack harmonica on a historic 1942 tune, “The Army Blues,” recorded during Alan Lomax’s famous road trip to Clarksdale for the Library of Congress archives.

The disc contains a few blues standards such as “Crawling Kingsnake,” “How Long” and “Roamin’ and Ramblin’,” the title cut.

One of my favorites on the disc is “Maxwell Street Shuffle,” an instrumental recorded in 2007 with Branch on harp. Edwards is outstanding on slide guitar. Another standout is “Smoky Mountains,” with the great Walter Horton on vocals and harp. Horton shines again on “Jump Out.”

I also like the faster tempo “Low Down Dog,” with Frank on harp.

Edwards’ voice is understandably clearer on the 1970s tracks, but his guitar playing is equally good on all of the songs. The solo in “Trouble Everywhere I Go” is particularly catching, and it continues right into the next song, “I Was In New Orleans Last Night,” a super 1976 cut with Sugar Blue on harp.

There are also three entertaining bonus blues stories tracks, one from 1942 in which Honeyboy is interviewed by Lomax about riding the rails; and two chats between Honeyboy and Bobby Rush about Little Walter, and different styles of playing blues.

This record, with its back-porch, swampy, laid-back feel is a must for a blues collection, if only for the true Delta sound.

Although, as relaxed and easy going as Edwards seems in his music, his publicist described him as an “energizer bunny.” He still gigs regularly. And Edwards was apparently always like that. An old account tells how Lomax had a hard time finding the “fast moving” Edwards in 1942. Just listening to the interview about him jumping trains had me shaking my head in amazement.

He’s an original, and a gem.



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