Monday the world lost David Honeyboy Edwards, the “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen.” He died in the early morning while resting peacefully at home.Honeyboy has moved on to blues heaven, the last link we have had to the early days of the blues. He lived a long, full life and the world is a better place for his time with us.I first saw Honeyboy at the Boxcar in Fairfield, CT. That was the night Keith Richards sat in with him. I was lucky enough to get an excellent picture of the two of them leaning over their guitars, just talking. I did get other pictures from various festivals but the ones in Connecticut including Black-eyed Sally’s and Café 9, seemed the best. After that I saw him from Clarksdale to Memphis to Black-eyed Sally’s and Café 9 in Connecticut. Honeyboy kept up that active life of traveling and gigs until April of this year. He maintained a strong spirit until the end, telling stories and showing off his dexterity in his hands.
I remember his visit to Black-eyed Sally’s. Joined by Rocky Lawrence and his manager Michael Frank, Honeyboy was enjoying himself. Visiting with the audience and posed for pictures.
Later at the end of the show, he stepped back on stage to play some solo numbers for the crowd. I spent time with him after the show just sitting on the stage and talking.
He was part of a legends concert at Fairfield Theater Stage One, which was Robert Lockwood, Jr.’s last major show.
Born in Shaw, Mississippi in 1915, he was the son of a sharecropper, the grandson of a slave and for an extraordinary 80-plus years the voice of the Delta blues. David “Honeyboy” Edwards picked cotton and pulled corn on Mississippi Delta plantations from age 9, living the hard life that the blues were created to address. As a young man, he hoboed across the South with a guitar on his shoulder, rode the rails, got thrown in prison for vagrancy and various trumped-up charges and, along the way, made music with the founders of the art form: Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Son House, Tommy McLennan, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Joe Williams.
Honeyboy left home at age 14 to travel and perform with Big Joe Williams, which became the early model of his life’s activities. Honeyboy’s recording career started in 1942 when Alan Lomax recorded him in Clarksdale, Mississippi for the Library of Congress.
His recording career has releases on many labels; ARC, Sun Records, Chess, Folkways, Trix, Testament, Evidence, Roots, Blue Suit, Blue Horizon, Genes, Blue Shoe, APO, Wolf, and of course the Earwig Record Label. He has received 2 Grammy Awards, 2 Blues Music Awards, has been inducted in the Blues Hall Of Fame, received a fellowship from The National Endowment for the Arts, and won a KBA (Keeping The Blues Alive Award) in the literature category for his brilliant biography The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing.
He is well known as a pioneer of Delta Blues, who made pre-WWII recordings.
One must mention Honeyboy’s long association with Earwig Music label chief Michael Frank. The two met in 1972 and Michael would grow into the role of Honeyboy’s manager, harmonica player, and traveling companion. Michael has done so much to guide Honeyboy’s career.
It is no cliché- David “Honeyboy” Edwards is a true living legend. Honeyboy’s charm, wit and musical brilliance will leave a gap in the blues, never to be filled. The deep blues emotion that poured out of Honeyboy Edwards in each performance has left a lasting impression on the blues world.
Edwards’ death effectively closes the book on a genre of music he represented in Chicago, where he was based since the 1950s.
He’s the last of the bluesmen from his generation. Honeyboy was a close associate of Robert Johnson. Though he collaborated prolifically with the first-generation creators of the music, he was perhaps most famous as one of the last musicians to visit Robert Johnson as the seminal bluesman lay dying near Greenwood, Mississippi., in 1938. He was that direct connection with the fabled Robert Johnson, and now that has come to an end.
Edwards told his remarkable story in snippets onstage, in anecdotes during uncounted interviews and in a 1997 memoir that has become a landmark of American musical history, “The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing: The Life and Times of Delta Bluesman Honeyboy Edwards.” In it, Edwards detailed the brutality of life on the plantations around Shaw, Miss., where he was born June 28, 1915. He told of lynchings that dotted the landscape and of being picked up and sent to the penitentiary for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Along with an entire generation of blues musicians and others during the Great Migration, Edwards traveled north to Chicago in the mid-1950s to get work. He toiled in factories as a machine operator and on construction sites on anything that was needed. At night, he played the blues.
“He wasn’t as influential as Robert Johnson and people like that, but if you look at his whole body of work, it was bigger and broader,” Frank said. “He wasn’t as influential because people weren’t playing his songs as blues standards.”
Honeyboy’s technique was unique, sometimes throwing an unanticipated change to keep those playing with him sharp. He worked at the highest level of musicianship and his hands were the masters of the guitar strings to his last performance.