“A Sort of Homecoming”
“If you donít like the blues the way we play them, why donít you get your coat and drive on home?”
These lyrics are taken from Watermelon Slim & The Workers song, “Newspaper Reporter,” off of the 2007 Northern Blues release The Wheel Man. Bill Homans, under the blues moniker Watermelon Slim, offers up these unapologetic lyrics with a succinct look at how a true contemporary blues music star and his band play the music so close to their hearts.
With constant respect for their own inspirations in blues music, any live Watermelon Slim & The Workers performance will be an authentic Mississippi Delta down home experience. The band fills the air with honest and heartfelt music capable of transforming the stuffiest of rooms, such as The Regatta Bar at The Charles Hotel, into a southern juke joint. It is up to the listener to do the rest.
Like it or not, the Regatta Bar is best suited for the apple-tini and cosmopolitan crowd. In a room and environment best suited for jazz, in the middle of one of the few cities in the world where it is OK to charge $300 for a room at a Best Western Hotel, Watermelon Slim & The Workers drove The Wheel Man tour into the Regatta Bar to entertain a nearly packed house of blues neophytes, along with “Watermelon-heads” (thanks to Cliff Belcher Ė Workersí Bassist), VIPs, friends and family.
Slimís hometown is Ashville, North Carolina. When not on the road some 200 days a year touring the globe, he resides in Oklahoma City. But the harp and Dobro player-vocalist has some considerable ties to Massachusetts.
From an audience speckled with Boston blues scene luminaries Chris Stovall Brown, gifted vocalist Madeleine Hall, Greg Sarni of the Boston Blues Trust and a late arriving Wash Tub Robbie - to a good-natured heckling during the opening introduction from Homansí own brother, who was in attendance, clearly this was not just another performance.
From the opening bars of Slim Harpoís “Iím a King Bee,” Slim, with Cliff Belcher on bass (also doubling as the merchandise manager), Michael Newberry on drums (when not doubling as the road manager), and recent addition Ronnie McMullen Jr. on guitar, was intent on going for the jugular with a swagger befitting the greats of the blues genre. From that point, Slim took a brief break to introduce “The Wheel Man” track, which is an autobiographical look at a strange phase of his life.
The recorded version of “The Wheel Man” was done as a duet with Magic Slim on the The Wheel Man CD. And performed live, Watermelon Slimís weathered voice more than measured up to the recorded performance.
After a brief banter session with the audience, Slim introduced the next song of the evening, “I Got News For You,” a track written by Michael Newbury which had audience members dancing in the back corner of the room. Reaching into the back catalog, before The Workers, they next offered up a new arrangement of “I Got a Problem,” released on the 2003 Southern Records disc Big Shoes To Fill.
On what is sure to be a solid track for their next release was guitar player Ronnie Macís contribution, “Youíre the One I Need”. Two more tracks from The Wheel Man: “Ashtray is Full,” about the blues created by coming home to an empty house after a long tour; and “Devilís Cadillac,” before Slim teased another track which the audience was assured will appear on a future release.
“Nothing Left,” another contribution by Michael Newberry brought the audience to the halfway point of the evening.
Slim stopped the night one more time to discuss his roots and ties to the area, and introduce a special guest for the evening, Chris Stovall Brown. Though Slim and Brown may not agree on when they met, or the location, their musical camaraderie and healthy respect for each otherís talent was on display when playing together. Paying homage to their mentor, Earring George Mayweather, Slim and Brown took the “Tomorrow Night” track from the 2003 Mayweather release and ripped through it. Somewhere Earring George was smiling, encouraging his protťgťs to “Whup It! Whup It!”
After some handshakes and hugs among old friends and collaborators, and a return of Ronnie Macís guitar, Slim introduced the next tune, which should make his next release. Another new track, “Dad in the Distance,” is a stirring tribute to Slimís daughter Jessie, who in spite of her less-than-traditional roots was clearly a source of pride for her father. After Slim had wrenched the hearts out of many in the audience with this touching tribute, it was back to work again with a swagger and respect for blues greats who inspired him. A raucous medley of “Iím Ready” and “Mannish Boy,” as made famous by the legendary Muddy Waters, brought the spirit and verve back to the audience.
After taking another moment to soak up the appreciation from the crowd, Slim offered up another brief introduction for the “Blue Freightliner” that, as blues legends would have it, would be sung over the CB Radio on one of Homansí long hauls during a previous career as a trucker.
The final three tracks of the evening proved to be as powerfully delivered as anything else that night.
“Juke Joint Woman” from The Wheel Man, “Gearzyís Boogie,” an instrumental track titled and dedicated to the “only honest mechanic in Des Moines, Iowa,” and finally, the last scheduled track of the night “Archetypal Blues.”
While Cliff Belcher quickly shuffled the merchandise out to the front room, Washtub Robbie dropped a contraption called a “four-string electric diddley bow” which proved too tempting for Slim to pass up. As a thank-you for the support of the audience, Slim delivered an impromptu version of Robert Johnsonís “Walking Blues” to close the evening.
In closing, as the new guard of “bluesicians” hit the scene determined to break the boundaries of blues music, and take it into the realms of the jam band, Watermelon Slim & The Workers are a refreshing blast - proving that making great authentic blues music takes musicians who live for that music.