The greatest gift that Honeyboy Edwards gave to the blues over his lifetime was to give fans (via countless interviews in magazines, books, and radio) a more vivid picture of what it was like during the blues' humble beginnings, before the days of electric instruments, Sun Records, Chess, VeeJay, Excello, and the rest, when musicians risked life and limb in the deep south moving from town to town to earn a living playing on the streets, in local joints, at fish fries, and at house parties....when musicians hoboed from town to town, riding the rails from the south to the north, looking for a way to get ahead, staying one step ahead of the law, or an angry woman, or a jealous husband. For most of his listeners, Honeyboy's recollections were about as close as they would ever get to actually "living the blues." As much as I enjoyed listening to Edwards perform over the years, it was even more interesting to hear about his life. He had an incredible memory and could recall things from seventy years ago like they just happened. That will be the biggest loss of all in losing Honeyboy Edwards.....that amazing memory and his wonderful stories.
More than anything you can say about Honeyboy Edwards, that last sentence says it best......He gave the people what they wanted. He wasn't a pioneer, a ground-breaking artist, a major innovator. Instead, he was a guy who loved to play the blues and who filled more gaps in the music's history and lore than anyone else. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to him (and to Michael Frank, who provided invaluable support to Edwards over the past 40 years, recording him for Earwig Records, serving as his manager, backing him on harmonica on tour, etc...) for what he gave us, on record and with countless interviews, stories, and even his own autobiography (absolutely essential reading for ANY blues fan). His was a life well-lived and we should be glad that he shared a part of it with us.
A few of my favorite Honeyboy Edwards recordings.......
Delta Bluesman (Earwig): a wonderful combination of the old and the new. The "old" are Edwards' 1942 Library of Congress recordings. The new are freshly (early 90's) recorded blues tracks that show how strong a performer Edwards was, even in his late 70's. Though it's nice to have the Library of Congress songs, the modern tracks are really special.
Crawling Kingsnake (Testament): Recordings made by Pete Welding in the mid to late 70's. Edwards was at the peak of his powers at this time. Too bad, no one was taking notice. These recordings sat dormant for years (similar to his recordings for Chess, which weren't issued until being collected in an anthology set in the early 70's) before Testament reissued it in the late 90's.
Old Friends (Earwig): The second-ever release from Earwig Records, this recording features Edwards with a quartet of old-school Chicago musicians - Sunnyland Slim, Kansas City Red, Big Walter Horton, and Floyd Jones. Each took turns in the spotlight, and Edwards' material really stands out, but all of it is worth hearing. It sounds like a bunch of buddies getting together and just making music. Rough and ragged stuff....in other words, it's nearly perfect!! One of my all-time favorite recordings.