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CD/DVD REVIEW -- David Honeyboy Edwards
GLT blues radio

DAVID “HONEYBOY” EDWARDS

With Jeff Dale & The South Woodlawners & Michael Frank

I’m Gonna Tell You Somethin’ That I Know

Pro Sho Bidness

Honeyboy Edwards CD/DVD

By Robin Zimmerman

It was back in 1942 when a young folklorist named Alan Lomax was cruising around the cotton fields of Coahoma County, Mississippi. The well-dressed white man with the shiny new Hudson was in search of authentic blues musicians to record for the Library of Congress.

 

During his travels around the Delta, Lomax lugged primitive equipment in the back of that Hudson. But, these unwieldy instruments fulfilled Lomax’s goal of immortalizing blues greats like Son House, Muddy Waters and David “Honeyboy” Edwards.

 

Now with the release of the CD/DVD of Honeyboy Edwards’ I’m Gonna Tell You Somethin’ That I Know, guitarist and native Chicagoan Jeff Dale has delivered a modern twist in the role as archivist and curator of Honeyboy’s musical legacy.

 

When a still vibrant 95-year-old Honeyboy showed up at the acoustically perfect G Spot in Los Angeles on September 4th, 2010, no one knew it would be his final recorded concert. But Dale and his crew were cognizant of the importance of the moment. Honeyboy represented the last living link to a long line of legendary Delta bluesmen. 

Honeyboy Edwards by Jenn Noble
photo: Jennifer Noble

When Edwards took the stage, audio equipment and cameras were trained on him to capture the nuances of pre-World War II blues that he had picked up and perfected with the likes of Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Big Joe Williams and a slew of others. 



Dale recalled that “the happy accident” of the night was when one of the three cameras remained on after the concert had concluded. Here, in between swigs of Crown Royal, Honeyboy was captured telling all sorts of stories about his old-time blues contemporaries.  Dale still relishes the moment, saying Edwards was “so vital up to the end.”

 

The DVD was first shown at the Clarksdale Film Festival in January. Dale said that following the screening, “everyone wanted a copy, which is why I wanted to make the DVD.”  

 

Dale launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for his “labor of love” to help cover all the licensing fees associated with Honeyboy’s prolific output. Thanks to support from family, friends and Honeyboy fans all around the world, their goal was met. The CD/DVD was released on August 2, 2016.

 

Both the CD and DVD are a testament to Edwards’ vitality and his style of play. It also stands as a tribute to the bonds of friendship. Dale has said that his close association with Edwards inspired him to return to music in his middle age after a long hiatus.

 

Michael Frank, Edwards’ manager and collaborator on his highly-regarded biography, The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing, also plays harp on the first three tracks; Dale’s band, The South Woodlawners comes on for the final seven songs. The roster includes Darryl Lieberstein on bass, Geoff Mohan on harmonica and Clark Pardee on drums.

Jeff Dale by Roman Sobus
Jeff Dale
photo: Roman Sobus

Since Honeyboy spent much of his career touring as a solo act, Dale said the key was to let the veteran musician establish the tempo. He added, “one of the lessons I learned from Honeyboy and other musicians from his era is that you cannot try and box them into contemporary blues and stray ahead to 12 or 16 bar blues.”

 

The crew did well to let Honeyboy lead the show as both the CD/DVD serve as a textbook tutorial into the beauty of old-school blues.  

 

With a hearty voice that belied his 95-years, he asks the crowd if “Y’all ready for the Blues?” and launches into Howlin’ Wolf’s “Ride with Me Tonight.” With Dale on guitar and Frank on harp, this track takes the listener on a musical journey that evokes the rural Mississippi of Edwards’ youth.

 

While Edwards’ riffs on “Ride With Me” were up-tempo, Dale said that Edwards wasn’t too fond of blues-rock or fast-paced music. And, while many artists have amped up Jimmy Rogers’ music, Honeyboy wasn't one of them. His take on Rogers’ “That’s Alright” is a slow-paced, satisfying send-up.

 

Since Robert Lockwood, Jr. was another Honeyboy contemporary, the next track, “Little Boy Blue” is a fitting choice. Dale said that Edwards was all about “winging it” with no rehearsals or set lists so it was extremely important for his musical mates to listen and follow his lead.

 

The fourth track, “You’re the One” is the first to feature the South Woodlawners. Since the cameras were so focused on Honeyboy, Dale said that the viewer couldn’t see him sending signals to the other band members to let them know what key Honeyboy was playing in!

 

His musical supervision succeeded, as there is evidence of happy hoots from audience members on the CD. The companion DVD shows self-satisfied smiles from the band members, who were well aware that they were playing a very special gig.

 

The band’s understated backing and understanding of the importance of letting Honeyboy take the lead is very apparent in the fifth track. “Going Down Slow” sums up the song’s pacing with Honeyboy’s guitar and still-strong vocals complemented by the South Woodlawners’ subtle accompaniments.

 

There’s some good-natured banter between Dale and Edwards before they launch into Muddy Waters’ “Country Boy.” which segues nicely into his rendition of Robert Petway’s “Catfish Blues.”

 

The next number “Apron Strings” is credited to Honeyboy Edwards himself. Although Dale had played this with Edwards before, he wasn’t ready for Edwards to deliver an up-tempo version of this tune. Dale is seen on the DVD urging the drummer to “pick it up” after being told by Honeyboy that the band was dragging.

 

Honeyboy literally brought it home with his rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago.”  Written during the Black Great Migration to cities like Chicago, this version is free of the blaring horns and big vocals that characterized later incarnations. Edwards’ take on his friend Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” brings one back to the days when a young Honeyboy was hopping freights with Big Joe Williams and hoboing around the country.

 

It should also be noted that Honeyboy’s renowned photographic memory serves him well at the end of the DVD. Here, with the camera still focused on him, he reminisces about everything from the night that Robert Johnson died to his association with a true “who’s who” of blues music pioneers.

 

Dale said, “The driving force of this whole project for me was just to extend Honeyboy’s legacy.” And, he is correct in this assessment.  Like Robert Johnson’s The Complete Recordings, or a Chess Studio anthology or an early Bessie Smith release, I’m Gonna Tell You Somethin’ That I Know falls into the “essential” category. Thanks to state-of-the art audio visual equipment, the blues lover can observe an old master’s technique, hear riveting tales and bask in the happiness of watching a historically significant artist get his due while still alive.

David “Honeyboy” Edwards passed away on August 29, 2011 at age 96. Thanks to Jeff Dale and this memorable CD/DVD, his music and memory lives on.

For info or to buy the CD/DVD or downloads visit:

http://www.jeffdaleblues.com/

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