Watermelon Slim

Watermelon Slim
Watermelon Slim and the Workers

Northern Blues Music NBM0032

By Karen Nugent
November 2006

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The truck driving, garbage, and manual labor theme that runs through this disc seems a bit strange until you realize that the so-cool Watermelon Slim really did make his living hauling industrial waste around Oklahoma.

But following a nearly fatal heart attack two years ago, he quit that grim gig and took up playing blues full-time. And that’s a good thing, because this disc, his third, transforms that old theme of backbreaking labor into some real heartfelt music.

Slim, a.k.a. Bill Homans, drips with authentic, yet somehow modern, blues.

Singing, along with playing great harp, Dobro and insane slide guitar, he wrote most of the songs himself, including the bluesy “Hard Labor” with the line: “Hard labor hard labor, sure will be the death of me/You got to work so hard to earn you dollar, but it sure will sap your energy”.

Then there’s “Dumpster Blues” with its references to landfills, front loaders, dispatchers, and loading 70,000 pounds that is: “so rotten, smells like the devil’s bottom hole”. Slim wails on harp on that one, along with “Possum Hand” (a fantastic bluesy instrumental written by his guitarist, Ike Lamb, who also sings backup on other songs), and on “Mack Truck” with its playful, silly lines (“I’m a Mack truck lover, baby – I’m long and I’m hard”) - and other cracks about forming unions and convoys, and “parking it in the yard”.

Another track “Sad Sinner” features a soulful slide guitar, and “Devil’s Cadillac” (written by drummer Michael Newberry, who also sings backup) is a hauntingly beautiful, slow blues, even if it does have the line, “The Cadillac was so was silent, like the inside of a hearse/The air conditioning was so cold, like a tomb or maybe worse”.

Slim does a different, but interesting, version of “Baby, Please Don’t Go” and also covers “Frisco Line”.

A few tracks “Check Writing Woman” and “Ash Tray” are a bit on the rock-and-roll side, and the disc’s opener, “Hard Times” is one of the least likable, with Slim sounding a little off-key.

But that’s OK. The man has paid his dues. A Vietnam veteran when he first appeared on the music scene in the 1970s, he was the only known such veteran to record a protest album during that war. He continued playing part-time in subsequent years while working full-time at the waste-hauling job. Now he is described as a “touring machine” (apparently, he still likes to drive).

In 2005, he was nominated for a Handy award, and was invited to play at the awards ceremony in Memphis.

Besides Lamb and Newberry, Slim is joined on the new disc by Cliff Belcher on bass and backups, Dennis Borycki on piano, and Chris Wick on bass for one song.

To quote Charlie Musselwhite’s take on Watermelon Slim and the Workers, “Anyone that likes blues will get a kick out of this.”

www.watermelonslim.com

www.northernblues.com

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