David Honeyboy Edwards: the blues at 95

David Honeyboy Edwards — at age 94 and 3/4s one of very few survivors of the original Delta blues generation — gigged at B.B. King’s Blues Club on NYC’s 42nd St. last week. He held the stage with little help from his two sidemen for nearly an hour, after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Guitar Museum. His voice a warm burr reaching for a high, tight little cry, his acoustic guitar playing quirky but deliberate, Edwards was completely at ease delivering songs he’s performed most of his long life. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

“You’re in love with another man, but that’s alright,” he crooned, “I can’t keep from wonderin’ who’s lovin’ you tonight.” And “Woke up this mornin’, looked ’round for my shoes/Guess I had those mean old walkin’ blues.” Then: “Baby, don’t you want to go, to that same old place, sweet home Chicago?” Honeyboy’s dialect and delivery may have made the words hard for some to understand, but they were familiar to most of the audience, having been passed along from singer to singer since the days of Robert Johnson — and Honeyboy claims to have sat at Johnson’s bedside while he suffered his fatal poisoning in 1938.
Honeyboy’s voice expressed resignation, perhaps a touch of longing, but no bitterness. His guitar work was steady and thoughtful, with a steely twang. He took special care with endings, frequently going rubato to carefully arpeggiate a 9th chord. He had his own sense of time — developed it over decades, and it’s worthy of respect. If he dropped a beat, it didn’t bother him, he knew just where he was. Neither was he affected by the chunky chordal rhythm a second guitarist provided (that poor fella had to watch Honeyboy closely, so as not to mess up) or the vague but atmospheric harmonica-playing of Michael Franks, who produces Honeyboy’s albums and other projects with a preservationist agenda for his Chicago-based Earwig Records
NARAS gave Honeyboy a special merit Lifetime Achievement award in January. In 2008 he and his fellow Delta bluesmen Pinetop Perkins and Henry Townsend shared a Grammy for Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen — Live in Dallas. He published an autobiography titled The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing in 1997, and more recently Honeyboy the film has been making the round of film festivals. Here’s a clip from his performance at Deke Dickerson’s Guitar Geek Festival in Anaheim, California last January:
Honeyboy has further engagements on his calendar including a tour of British Columbia through the end of March, a dip down to Clarksdale in April, the Chicago Blues Festival in June and the fifth annual T-Bone Walker Blues Festival in Linden, Texas (T-Bone’s hometown) June 19. He’ll be at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans come September.
At least those are his plans, and he didn’t give any reason to doubt he’ll fulfill them. At B.B. King’s Honeyboy included “Goin’ Down Slow” with its lyrics, “I’ve done had my fun/If I don’t get well no more/All my health is failing/Lord, I’m goin’ down slow.” Well, there was no evidence of that. The man’s no spring chicken, but he seems to be easin’ along gracefully. Can one ask for anything more? 
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  1. says

    PS — Honeyboy’s 2nd guitarist was Rocky Lawrence — there was an opening act as well, Marc Benno, who years ago came on strong playing Texas blues, but now slings a blunt raunch suitable for New Jersey frat parties.

  2. Tom says

    Nice post Howard! I saw him play a solo gig on acoustic when he was 92. He could play faster than he could walk, but the man’s unstoppable!
    Gary Davis used to say that he wanted to die on the road. And he did. Looks like Honeyboy will play to the end too – hope it’s a long way off.

  3. says

    This was a great article Howard. I had been checking the net to see how Marc did at B.B.’s.
    This is the second review that I have read that isn’t very flattering.
    It’s a shame… I remember Marc from the late 60’s with Leon Russell in the Asylum Choir.
    Sorry he fell short as far as you are concerned.
    HM: Marc has guitar chops, but his song choice and delivery was simply crude and not appealing to me. He didn’t seem very committed to what he was doing or confident about it, either. His keyboardist was good, bassist suitable, drummer rockish but not wrong, but the performance was desultory, and Marc apologized to the crowd. Maybe he hasn’t played a place like B.B.’s in a while, but he didn’t make it his own.