David “Honeyboy” Edwards – 10 November 2008: New York, B.B. King’s
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner
Living legend is a term frequently abused. Interlopers inattentively dilute it, so squeezing what meaning remains from it does not give justice to David “Honeyboy” Edwards’ remarkable, and continuing, 93-year history steeped in the blues. However, tossing in the name Robert Johnson -- whom Honeyboy was acquainted with and whose fateful final performance he was present at -- instantly adds much deserved lore and intrigue to Honeyboy’s often overlooked stature.
Let it be clear that the rowdy crowd at B.B. King’s knew exactly whom and what they were listening to. The venue’s dinner-theatre arrangement easily gave way to whoops and hollers that helped energize Honeyboy’s aged hands and weathered voice, while second guitarist Rocky Lawrence also egged them on between and during songs.
Joining the nonagenarian and Lawrence was harmonica player Michael Frank, longtime collaborator and friend. But Frank and Lawrence were merely rhythmic and social companions to Honeyboy’s deep shuffling vocals and finger picked slides. Together they played with apt dynamics, beautifully conveying the emotional ebb and flow of each tune.
Opening with “Catfish Blues” Honeyboy himself was avuncular and sympathetic. Maintaining a woefully serious face on the surface through most of his songs, he would eventually give in to a bright-eyed grin when the audience got particularly rowdy, like during “Sweet Home Chicago”, or when they howled after he sang “I don’t know right from wrong” during “Don’t Say I Don’t Love You”. I also personally felt for him and his inherent frustrations, his fingers not always responding as they once had nor as he’d intended.
Like Honeyboy’s humble origins in Shaw, Mississippi (where the historic Mississippi Blues Trail marks his roots) his sound was bare yet refined, unfiltered yet concentrated with decades of raw emotion. In fact, much of Honeyboy’s demeanor suggested ceaseless pain from the woeful subjects of his songs: drunks, untrustworthy companions, and his own primordial vices.
But he keeps moving on though, musically steeped in a distancing past, his life embodying that of the mythical traveling blues man.