As Old as the Blues
from the Playboy Blog, 11/13/08
A 93-year-old doesn’t take the stage the way most musicians do. It takes a lot longer, and may require spotters on either flank. So when David “Honeyboy” Edwards made the trek to center stage at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill and settled ever so slowly into his chair, I had to wonder, does he still have it?
Born in 1915, Honeyboy is one of the last original Delta bluesmen still walking the earth. He’s a contemporary of the legendary Robert Johnson, and actually wrote some of the songs that Johnson made famous, including “Sweet Home Chicago.” But despite his age, Honeyboy put on an energetic show. His voice, a bit deeper and gruffer than Johnson’s, was still strong, his lyrics as unintelligible as ever. Honeyboy’s guitar rhythms were a bit more lax than they were in the old days, but his accompanists, Michael Frank on Harmonica and Rocky Lawrence on second guitar, followed his lead smoothly. And when it came to soloing, Honeyboy showed that his fingers and creative mind were still impressively nimble. He raised his eyebrows at the crowd whenever he hit a particularly mischievous twang, and Lawrence contributed delighted cackles and howls at Honeyboy’s most impressive riffs. But the band never stopped to soak up the love from the crowd, chugging relentlessly from one song to the next without rest.
My neighbors at our long table were a graying middle-aged man and his long-haired teenage nephew, guitarists of two generations basking in the gleam of a shared ancestor. “See how the acoustic guitar reveals the nuances you can’t hear on electric?” they whispered. “You hear that shuffle? That’s the same way Stevie Ray Vaughan played.”
“We never play together,” said the uncle. “These young guys play totally different music. But I brought him here because you have to know your fundamentals no matter what you’re playing.” He pointed to the stage. “This is where it all comes from.”