More than a friendship with Johnson accounts for Honeyboy’s rightful place in blues, and rock ‘n’ roll history, though.
Born June 28, 1915, in Shaw, Mississippi, Honeyboy learned to play guitar from his father and later refined his technique by watching other musicians, amongst them Peetie Wheatstraw, Charley Patton, and Robert Johnson.
And while Johnson is often credited with writing “Sweet Home Chicago”, Edwards has laid claim to the iconic song as well. As is often the case with early blues music, ownership can be a muddy area. Honeyboy recorded with Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1942. It would be almost a decade before he recorded again, during which time many songs had made their way through the music community and whoever got their name on a record with that song claimed authorship.
During the pre-war period, Edwards was a travelin’ man (which accounts for the gap in recording history), spending time riding the rails, walking dusty roads, and occasionally benefitting from car ownership. His autobiography, The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing, recounts his adventures, along with many misadventures. One fateful tale included is the night Robert Johnson was poisoned. Edwards’ recollection of the care available to ailing blacks at the time leads directly into the horror of the slow, agonizing death of his friend. Things weren’t much better for those who were young, healthy, and black — if the law didn’t like the looks of you, they could detain you without reason, which led to Honeyboy spending some time on “the farm” (prison farm). When you take into consideration all that Honeyboy Edwards has seen in his lifetime: racism, the civil rights movement, air travel, television, and computers to name a few, it becomes apparent that he’s more than just a 95-year-old musician — he’s the best link to our history as a nation we have!
It’s taken far too long for Edwards to receive recognition for his contribution to the American songbook, but on January 31, 2010, he received his Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Just two years prior, he’d also received a Grammy for Last Of The Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas album he’d recorded with Henry Townsend, Robert Lockwood Jr., and Pinetop Perkins. He’s performed several times at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame as others have been inducted but still has not been inducted himself. He was, however, inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1996.
You can learn more about this legendary performer by visiting his website. And if you’re curious, you can check out his performance in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. As well, he has his very own movie, entitled Honeyboy. Even better, if you have the opportunity to see Honeyboy perform, I highly recommend it! I’ve been to several concerts and am never disappointed. There are ten scheduled tour dates listed on his website at the moment, not including this weekend’s performance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival.
Happy birthday, Honeyboy!
(deltamediaproject – Honeyboy Edwards, performance)
My son, Spenser Hunt, then just 11-years-old, interviewed Honeyboy Edwards in 2008. A few questions cut to the heart of an amazing man:
The world has changed a lot since you were born. What are some of the most significant changes that you have seen?
Some of the stuff you don’t want to know about. There were plantations and Jim Crow laws, you know. There were people leaving the Delta; but now some of them are going back. Now there are casinos in the Delta and many other things have changed as well.
What is your favorite song that you wrote?
“Drop Down Mama” because it was my first hit and “Take Me Home” because that was a hit, too.
Does it get harder to play a show as you get older?
A little bit. I have a little bit swelling in my joints, but I am still as fast as I was when I was twenty.
What group of people do you like to play for, and why? (Like an older group vs. kids, or at a night club.)
It makes no difference as long as people like it.
Do you still play the Blues harp?
Yes, sometimes, but not usually in concert.