Long ago and far away, I was pulled away from my Southeastern focus in a couple of different directions. Detroit (and the pianists; O&S #23) was one, while Cleveland, OH had Robert Lockwood (O&S # 39, 40). Jim O’Neal was originally responsible for my small forays into Chicago, nearly as over-ridden with scholars as the so-called Delta. He had been impressed by hearing Honeyboy Edwards, and Homesick James in their respective living-rooms and thought I should record them in that sort of context. Nobody in Chicago at that time seemed to be the slightest bit interested in acoustic “country blues”… only I was a likely culprit to be ensnared! By then, I had proven myself to be good with that sort of production (what I called “controlled field recordings”) and was willing to take a chance on the distance and the directional difference.
My first meeting with Honeyboy was somewhat inauspicious, to say the least. Jim guided me to Honeyboy’s apartment on the South Side where we talked and I heard him play a bit. At one point, I went out to my van, probably to get some Trix albums out of the back to give to Honeyboy or to pull out one of my many guitars… I’m not sure which, now (probably the former).
[ This is probably a good point to describe my transport, et al. I had a full-sizes GMC (later Dodge) van with only a single 2/3-width bench seat behind the driver’s and passenger’s front seats. The space behind the bench-seat was mostly filled by some rough cabinetry on which I could fit a standard twin-sized bed mattress. My dog(s) found this quite a comfortable arrangement on the road and occasionally I would also sleep there in necessary… and it was safe with the beasts! There were a series of lift-up doors on the right side of the construction, which I could lock with padlocks. Inside there were several compartments into which I stored all my equipment; Uher 4200 tape recorder, eventually half a dozen mics and stands, tapes (5” reels) for recording and cassettes for interviews, a six-in/two-out mixer, headphones, cameras, and usually six or seven guitars. As I have mentioned before in these pages, I never did an LP from only one session – usually there were three or more. The various guitars were for additional varieties of sound: they included a National (of around 1939 vintage), a Gibson SJ from about 1970, a Gibson ES-335 (just like Lucille!), plus a few others. The performers liked having a bigger tone-palette available to them – also under there was a fender Princeton amplifier (tweed covering). There were also times when a guitarist I might meet lacked a good instrument to hand and they appreciated that I had good quality instruments to draw upon. It was still possible to find interesting stuff in southern pawn shops in the early 70s. My personal luggage was also swallowed up under the bed, as was eventually Trix stock to give to artists and radio stations. And a beast or two on top… I was a traveling man, indeed! (see O&S # 36)]
At any rate, after spending some more time with Honeyboy and setting our first recording date, we all went out to my van. A back-door window had been smashed, as well as one of the long side windows. A block of concrete and a large piece of firewood lay on the mattress and my dog (Ruby Chewsday) was nowhere to be found. The first thing that Honeyboy said, “Those god damned niggers.” My surmise was that someone noticed me getting whatever it was out of the back of the van and thought it a good score. They probably took out the rear window first. Finding that there was no internal latch handle reachable, they then broke the side window with the block. Then they saw the dog. Now Ruby C. was a beagley sort of hound – they must have hurled the log at her after sighting her it an attempt to kill or injure her. Black folks and dogs go way back… .
While working one time in the Conyers, GA area I came out of my motel room with Rube (off lead) so that she could have her a.m. action. A Black maid making up rooms saw her and asked, as folks do, “Do that dog bite?” I, of course, reassured her that the dog was friendly. The woman then asked, “That dog got teeth?” I of course answered in the affirmative and she then said decisively, “It bite!” Like I say, Black folks and dogs go way back, especially White folks’ dogs. I presume that the perpetrator, being uncertain about the temperament of the dog and not been able to kill her or chase her off, must have left. Possibly our appearance on the scene had something to do with his disappearance. Nothing had been stolen and Ruby was found under the passenger’s seat, intact. This was the only time in my decade of field-work that my vehicle was damaged by outside forces. Bob Koester let me keep the van in his garage until I was able to effect temporary repairs with plastic sheeting and cardboard – after recording both Honeyboy and Homesick, I returned home.
The actual recording sessions went much more smoothly than our initial meeting ended! The first was held in the house of Jim and Amy O’Neal, then the LIVING BLUES H.Q. – that’s why there are books and records as a backdrop to my album photos of Honeyboy. Later sessions took place in Bruce Iglauer’s basement, then mainly a warehouse for Alligator album stock. It was through Iglauer that the services of Walter Horton were obtained for another session – he and Honeyboy went WAY back. He was available (and sober) on the required day and played beautifully, as would be expected from a master. There are more tunes from that session, including a couple of instrumentals by Walter (2). Two years later I was back again, using the same cellar. I’m not sure who put me on to Eddie El, but I figured if he could follow Crudup (on Delmark), he could stick with Honeyboy. I was right and a good session was done with the two of them as well. I interviewed Eddie at length and gave the cassette to Jim… I was hoping that someone would take him into a studio with a band, but it never happened. And I think Jim lost the cassette. Finally, I had enough varied material to put out a Honeyboy Edwards LP. And he’s STILL going strong.
(1.) The great Ruby Chewsday was a lovely mutt who was responsible for a number of other folks getting dogs after meeting her (e.g. – Bruce Bastin, Jim Watson [of Red Clay Ramblers], Bob Koester). Ruby died in about 1987 at the age of 18. Her cohort, a Labrador retriever named Asta, died about five years earlier at the age of 15. And I once had a cat that lived to be 23!
(2.) A couple of the unreleased pieces of Honey and Walter have come out on a recent Earwig CD of Edwards.
Peter B. Lowry
Published: BLUES & RHYTHM
- Honeyboy Edwards is a phenomenon, in part because of his age. His autobiography (with Bill Greensmith) is a worthy read for all. Still traveling, still playing, still singing: his chops are still fine, his voice (never the best) has diminished. Who’d of thunk it!!
- After winning a couple of Grammies, one a “Lifetime Achievement” one, Honeyboy finally retired in April of 2011. He died of congestive heart failure August 29 of that year – a long and eventually productive musical career was his by the end!