David Honeyboy Edwards Shows No Boundaries
David “Honeyboy” Edwards career has spanned nearly the entire recorded history of the blues. First, from its early years in the Mississippi Delta to its migration to the nightclubs of Chicago. Afterwards with its emergence as an international phenomenon. In the early 21st century, living links to Robert Johnson were few.
After the passing of Robert Jr Lockwood in 2006, Edwards is regarded as the last of the Delta bluesmen. At that time, he actually traveled with Johnson himself. Most importantly, Edwards has played with anyone that matters in the world of Blues. He is a living legend, and his story is truly a part of Blues history.
Taking his music on the road
David “Honeyboy” Edwards has a rough time growing up in Mississippi, so as soon as possible, he leaves the nest. At age 14 and takes to the road as a traveling musician. Impressed by Edwards at his young age, Big Joe Williams takes him under his wing as a musician which he maintains through the 1930s and 1940s.
Consequently, Honeyboy experiences the likes of Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, Johnny Shines and Robert Johnson with whom he developed a close friendship. Edwards also witnesses the demise of Johnson on the fatal night he drank the poisoned whiskey that killed him.
He made a few recordings for the Library of Congress sin 1942, but didn’t begin to record commercially until 1951, when he recorded for the American Recording Co. as “Mr. Honey”. Two years later he traveled to Chicago to record four songs for Chess Records, but only one of them, “Drop Down Mama”, was ever released, and that wasn’t until 1970.
Edwards, however, continued to tour and play clubs–and, when necessary, on street corners–in Chicago, and would occasionally play the South. In the 1960s he began his recording career again, this time with Adelphi/Blue Horizon, and also started to play blues festivals. In the 1970s and 1980s he toured Europe and Japan.
Blues At The Crossroads
Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mississippi Delta blues legend Robert Johnson. January 2011 brought the “Blues At The Crossroads: The Robert Johnson Centennial Concerts” tour and an accompanying album. The project features performances by Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Delta bluesman (and friend of Johnson) David “Honeyboy” Edwards, former Howlin’ Wolf guitarist and solo artist Hubert Sumlin, and the “Two Man Wrecking Crew” of Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm.
Guitar Style of Playing
Edwards was especially renowned for his intricate fingerpicking and his slashing bottleneck-slide guitar work. Though he played in much the same traditional style throughout his career, he also enjoyed the distinction of being one of the first Delta blues musicians to perform with a saxophonist and drummer.
On tour, Edwards would pick up books from music stores and teach himself more chords in order to keep up with the band. He also said in an interview, that he borrowed different guitar playing styles from other artists. As he put it, all musicians borrow and learn from each other. Furthermore, prior to his passing, he was playing as many as 100 shows a year until 2008. Then only occasionally afterwards. That’s dedication!
Here’s a video from 2008 of Devil in a Woodpile backing up David Honeyboy Edwards at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago. Playing the Delta blues classic, “Little Boy Blue.”
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Bill Friskics – Warren – nytimes.com