Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Sweetness of Honeyboy Edwards

I don’t sleep. I doze occasionally but morning, noon, night, evening, dead of night, early morning, the wee hours have no relevance to me. I’m always tired but seldom sleep.

So I got up from a thirty-minute nap to go to CVS, the store formerly known as Osco, Skaggs, Katz and Cranks. I had to find a blank VHS tape that, in the age of TiVo, is tantamount to trying to find a buggy whip or slide rule.
There’s a news show coming on HBO’s “In Focus” called “Vampires in America.” I told my friend Lisa I would tape it for her. She works at a “shelter” facility in NYC counseling homeless teens, drug addled kids, hopeless cases. Some of her “kids” claim to be vampires. She wants to see the HBO report and I want to make her happy.

Lisa is a brilliant writer. She worked for “The New Yorker” and wrote a great novel, “Because of You.” Then she was a junkie for several years and I thought she had died. I am glad she didn’t. Lisa is a middle class white girl. But she knows, loves and understands the blues. Some white kids can. Dig up the first two Electric Flag albums. Or “Better Days” by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Or any John Mayall record. Or the original Fleetwood Mac.
So... I’m out to find the archaic VHS tape and am tuned to NPR rather than the usual stuff I listen to, right wing radio. It was the godfather who said, “keep your friends close...and your enemies closer...”
I hear the strains of an obviously ancient blues recording.
Guitar and voice.
The announcer is saying, “This is David “Honeyboy” Edwards, recorded in 1942 by legendary folk/blues archivist Alan Lomax.”
The music crossfades into a higher fidelity version of the song and the announcer continues, “...and this is Honeyboy Edwards today, in our studio.”
Honeyboy Edwards is still playing the blues. He still loves the girls, the booze and the music.
At 93, Honeyboy is the LAST living link to the man who brought the Delta Blues to prominence, Robert Johnson.

Johnson, by all accounts, sold his soul to the Devil to learn to play the guitar. He is the father of American blues music. He was the Jimi Hendrix of his time. He remains the absolute mojo man. He is the end all of any discussion of the blues. Charley Patton, some will point out, was more proficient. But Patton didn’t SELL HIS SOUL TO THE DEVIL for his music. That kind of action requires a commitment. Ask Batman, the Joker or Dick Cheney. Selling one’s soul can’t be taken lightly, even if you’re an atheist.

In the interview, Honeyboy says, “Robert loved two things: Whisky and women.”
I understand that. I would sell my own soul for either and indeed may have done so. I still can’t play the guitar but I have been devil drunk and I know and love the kindest women on the planet who give me nothing “bluesy” to sing about because they have never done me no wrong. No wrong at all. Damn it! I could have had a blues career if I didn’t know all of these NICE women... Somebody, PLEASE, break my heart, do me wrong, treat me like a fool, step out, high faloot.

Johnson was killed at a house party one night in 1938. A husband -whose wife Johnson had been diddling- gave him some bootleg whisky laced with strychnine.
Honeyboy was there. He saw Robert Johnson die. For lovers and students of the blues the implications of “I saw Robert Johnson die” are beyond the realm of sanity. Thinking about it will only put a hellhound on your trail. Not to mention stones in your pathway.
Honeyboy went on to play with Big Joe Williams, Rice "Sonny Boy Williamson" Miller, Howlin' Wolf, Peetie Wheatstraw, Sunnyland Slim, Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Walter, Little Walter, Magic Sam and Muddy Waters.
Honeyboy Edwards is the real thing and I heard him sing and play today. At 93 he kicks every young poseur’s ass.
Honeyboy is 93. But in the interview he sounds younger. He is still vibrant and vital. He can still play the blues. And sing the blues. He is not feeble in any manner. The blues he plays and sings are THE blues. He was there when the idiom was being formed.
He’s not some suburban white kid who can flash on the guitar and thinks his life is hell because his parents were selfish yuppies. Yeah, life’s a bitch.
And yeah, I fucking hate “modern” blues.
The last blues guy who had the shit was Johnny Winter. He is an albino. A “Bizarro World” nigger. He’s an outcast because of the color of his skin. It’s a world gone mad. They hate dark skin and they reel from NO pigment. Everyone must be Caucasian, I guess. You know, “normal.”
Johnny was a junkie. A womanizer. A man who was born into the blues. And he plays and sings the real thang. Listen to his “Progressive Blues Experiment” He’s not Stevie Ray Vain or the people of the ilk who come through Springfield on a regular basis and make believe they “have the blues.” They have the blues if they don’t get dinner as specified in their contract rider. Baby ass white suburban blues. Pitiful? Yep. Certifiable? No fucking way.
Honeyboy told a story about his early adult life.
If a black man happened to be found in the daytime hours not working, he would be arrested for “vagrancy.”
Honeyboy realized he could make more money playing on the weekends than working the fields all day and he bucked/fucked the system. When asked what he did to avoid being found out, he says he just “stayed inside all day.” When asked what he DID all day he says, “Sleep. Eat. Ha Ha.”
Honeyboy stuck it to the man. God bless him.

At 93 Honeyboy still has the thing that has made men play music from time immemorial: The love of women. I would say “the chance for getting pussy” but that might be considered rude.
Honeyboy says, "I can do anything I ever done. It just take more time." The woman interviewing him laughs and is somewhat taken aback at a man of Honeyboy’s age talking about sex. But he’s a consummate bluesman and I’m sure he’ll be fucking until the day he dies. And maybe there will be 72 hookers waiting for him in heaven. I never understood the appeal of 72 virgins. I want some womens who already KNOW what ta do.

93 and still singing, playing and running with the girls. God bless Honeyboy. If there is a god he surely DOES bless Mr Edwards.

From time to time I have the privilege to sing with The Bluesberries, Steve Smith and the Sneakers, The Maxwells and some other local bands. I always do a Howlin’ Wolf song or two. I take the time to proselytize and tell the folks, “Go to or your local record store and BUY EVERY HOWLIN’ WOLF CD YOU CAN FIND.” I mean that. The Wolf is my spiritual blues guru. And Honeyboy is in the same realm.
Honeyboy Edwards is still alive. He knew Robert Johnson and Charley Patton.
He’s the end of the line, a real treasure. He deserves his respect.
Hearing him on the radio gave me hope that maybe things were OK.
But when I got home, Still President GW Gump was on TV and the hope faded.
So now I’m spinning up Wolf’s “Killin’ Floor” and am being taken away.
The “blues” is cathartic. And so is rock and roll. Next in line on my queue is “Search and Destroy” by The Stooges. Which is just a hype, skip and jump from Honeyboy Edwards. Acid fueled, Nixon era speed blues.
Ah the lineage will never be put asunder.
Johnson, Honeyboy, Wolf, Waters, Stones, Jimi, Iggy, The MC5, Cobain.
Tear out my heart but give me hope there’s something that’s gonna fill the hole.
The mens don’t know but the little girls understand.
I’ve worn this .44 so long, it’s made my shoulder sore.
There’s evil goin’ on.
Another mule’s been kickin’ in my stall.
And if I had listened to my first mind, I wouldn’t be here, down on this killin’ floor.
I am the world’s forgotten boy, the one who searches to destroy.

There ain’t no heaven. But if there were, the first thing I’d like to hear if I got in would be Howlin’ Wolf admonishing me the way he did Eric Clapton on “The London Sessions” record. While explaining “Little Red Rooster” to the band (Clapton, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, et al) Wolf is incredulous when Clapton says, “Maybe you should play it with us.”
Wolf says, “Oh man, come on! All you got to do is to count it off.”
He then plays the most sublime acoustic slide and counts, “One...two...three... four...and then the E drops in and he say BOOM! Always stop at the top, don’t stop down here...”

It’s one of the best musical moments ever documented.
When the E drops in he does indeed say boom.
In an era where Britney Spears gets a month of coverage for showing her kooch while drunk driving, it’s sad to think that when Honeyboy Edwards passes there will be little notice.
God bless you Honeyboy. And The Wolf and Muddy and Lightnin’ and Lead Belly and Willie Dixon and Little Walter and BOTH of the Sonny Boys and BB and The Stones for turning us dumb kids onto an indigenous American art form.
Everyone needs to remember, “All you got to do is to count it off.

Whineboy James 7/19/08

Hear the Honeyboy Edwards interview

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