In the world of the blues there are legends and then there are LEGENDS. David “Honey Boy” Edwards was a LEGEND. At the age 96 he was still making the rounds, singing his songs and telling his stories about women, drinking white whiskey, gambling, rambling, and never knowing he was writing himself into the pages of blues history.
After the passing of Pinetop Perkins, age 98, in March of this year, Edwards became recognized as the last remaining founder of the genre. He was born in 1915 in, like so many other blues-men, Mississippi and turned to music as a means of escaping the harshness of the cotton plantation. By the 1940s he was playing on the streets of Chicago and traveling extensively by himself and with other up and coming blues musicians.
His greatest claim to fame, besides his music, was his association with the mysterious blues singer and guitarists, Robert Johnson. Johnson, considered by many to be the best ever, died at an early age and with uncertainty about how he died. The story, supported by Honey Boy who was a witness, goes that Johnson was poisoned by a jealous husband and owner of a juke joint where Johnson was performing. Apparently Johnson had been messing with the man’s wife and the man slipped something into the musician’s drinks.
It never failed that Honey Boy was asked about his experiences with Robert Johnson and especially the events surrounding Johnson’s death. He also never tired of telling the story.
I first learned of Edwards a number of years ago and subsequently purchased one of his CDs. He had a very difficult to understand dialect and spoke in terms very foreign to a white Northerner. In this particular CD Honey Boy told the stories about his early days traveling around and how he met and became friends with Robert Johnson. I had to listen to these stories several times before I finally broke the code.
Several years ago, when he was only 89, Edwards appeared on stage at Wilmington College and my son and I had an opportunity to see and hear him in person. I don’t know if the majority of those present, black or white, had ever experienced someone of his background and pattern of speech. There was a young black student sitting at our table and you just knew he hadn’t much of a clue as to the musical importance of this man or what this man had witnessed and contended with during his life. Afterwards I had a chat with the student and related that hopefully he would someday come to realize he had been in the presence of a LEGEND.
Note: If you ever get a chance to see a DVD titled, Honey Boy. Why I started singing the blues? Hard times., do yourself a favor and take the time.