Most of the blues musicians we listen to seem able to be placed within some portion of an ongoing traditional musical stream that W.E. are comfortable with – their community bothers less with labels. Others have something going musically that appears to be, if not one-of-a-kind, at least have little-to-no past influences or successors. Skip James, John Lee Hooker, or Robert Pete Williams come easily to mind as examples of such unique musicians; they didn’t spring full-blown from the head some blues Zeus, but they were/are singular. Frank Edwards is one such unique-sounding blues artist, some sort of a “one-off”. His recordings made in the early seventies sound quite like his from 1949 and 1940: Frank has always sounded like Frank… with his own approach and it is quite identifiable as such. Frank Edwards = Frank Edwards.
While “working” the Atlanta area, many of the older musicians remembered him and tended to say that he “had funny time”. In other words, he was not always dependable in his meter. Now that’s certainly true of many others, say Honeyboy Edwards (O&S # 25), or Homesick James (O&S # 26), or “Guitar Shorty” (O&S # 41), all of whom I also recorded. I never found that to be true of Frank. Bass-player Billy Troiani enjoyed playing with Frank in Chapel Hill in 1972 and wanted to record with him – not the expected reaction to someone whose time was “funny”. His is an unique sound and that is often a considerable drawback and liability in the music world… the familiar is preferred as it takes less work to understand or appreciate!
Once Frank had received some royalty money from Chris Strachwitz, who had re-issued two of Frank’s OKeh sides on a Blues Classics collection back in the day, he was ready to go the next time I came South. With the money, he bought himself a guitar and amplifier, plus some harps, and gotten his fingers limbered up again! I recorded him by himself, but I also wanted to do him with some backing. He had recorded with Washboard Sam in 1940 on his OKeh session, while Curley Weaver backed him in 1949 for Regal. So we had to find additional musicians, not easy since I was still relatively “new” in Atlanta.
Roy Dunn (O&S # 12) came through with “Popcorn” (Arthur Clover) on the washboard, an older man who had once played in a band in the past at the Fort Valley State College (formerly Normal School) folk music segments of their annual Ham & Egg Show* during the 40s and 50s. He was a fine player, but I had a great of difficulty understanding his speech due to his impenetrable accent. This bothered me no end. Then Roy told me later on that he didn’t understand half of what “Pop” had to say, either, so I felt better! While the session went pretty well, Roy had kept Popcorn up half the night before and he did nod off a couple of times in the motel room where the recordings were done and he did drag the tempo a bit on the slow numbers!
Getting another guitarist was a more difficult proposition for two reasons: One was Frank’s undeserved reputation for funny time, and the second was that everybody wanted to play lead, not second! Even Roy Dunn’s brother, Oscar, didn’t work. It was Frank himself who finally succeeded in an unexpected way. For some reason he had gone to the Underground Atlanta, a tourist-trap where Piano Red sometimes worked some of the clubs, and where racist former-governor Lester Maddox had had his shop (!). He found one Steve Carson, who was 23 years old at the time, playing there in some sort of funk/soul band, and asked him to play on the session the next day. I was skeptical… he was quite young… but it worked out really well. Finally someone willing to play chords (there were no Robert Lockwoods in Atlanta that I knew of) and really “second” what Frank was doing. So it came to pass that we had a session and it was good! Note that I wasn’t trying to re-create the past, but wanted to get some variety into the material for a potential album. I did not yet have my six-in/two-out mixer, or I would have tried to record him with some sort of band. Frank not only got his instrumental chops back together quickly, he also wrote a lot of new material for the dates. Quiet and taciturn he may be, but Frank Edwards still is an unique musical gem. And he is still living, being aided and recorded by Tim Duffy and The Music Maker Relief Foundation in North Carolina, where they call him “Mr. Frank”!
* see my pieces in back issues of BLUES UNLIMITED, or Bastin’s book, RED RIVER BLUES, for more on that unique event in Ft. Valley, GA… it was even covered by LIFE, the well-known slick photo magazine back in the day – a multi-page spread!
Peter B. Lowry
Published: BLUES & RHYTHM
Frank was a wonderful human being and a great musician – that didn’t translate into album sales, as his was probably the worst-selling of my eighteen releases. Shit floats… quality sinks, he said, cynically. Since writing this, Frank has died in his nineties during a return trip from his final recordings for the MMRF. Went with his boots on, if you will allow me to mix my metaphors. A true gentleman. There has been a Mr. Frank Edwards blues festival in Atlanta since his death.