Let’s give thanks to David “Honeyboy” Edwards, one of the first generation of Delta bluesmen, who was born June 28, 1915, in Shaw, Mississippi. Without the struggles of Honeyboy and his peers, nothing would be possible for those of us who came after.
So, thank you Mr. Edwards! Because I spent time with Honeyboy in different places here and there, I was able to thank him in person for showing the way for the rest of us.
Shaking the Hand That Shook The Hand of Charlie Patton
We would always shake hands, that pre-covid ritual. It was during one of these meetings with Honeyboy that I thought about it. I shook hands with “name” people before that were important to me, Muhammad Ali, B.B. King, Aaron Neville, Eartha Kitt, Stokely Carmichael, Robert Parrish…But I realized that when I shook the hand of Honeyboy Edwards, I was shaking the hand that shook the hand of Charlie Patton. That’s taking it all the way back to the beginning of recorded Delta Blues.
The America that not everyone knows
What a privilege to be in the company of a such legend, of walking history. No one wants to be “interviewed” when hanging out with someone, it is supposed to be just friends. But sometimes, I had to ask him a question.
I asked Honeyboy what was it like traveling from place to place in the South during the 1940s. I will try to paraphrase one of the stories that he told me.
“Back in those days, we would be traveling with our guitars. There were a lot of trains going from place to place and we would try to ‘hobo’ (jump on a freight train, moving or not and get a free ride). Sometimes we would stick out our thumbs and try to catch a ride. If that didn’t work, we would walk, but you always had to be careful.
Honeyboy is stopped at gunpoint and forced to work
“One time I was walking on the side of the road, just me and my guitar and an old peckerwood pulls up to me with his pick-up truck. I’m thinking, Here we go.. “Where you going boy?”, he asks. “I’m just going to the next town, sir, to give a little concert, sir”, I say. “He said, concert!? No, no, no, your black ass is coming with me! I got work for you boy!”
Honeyboy continues with the story, “Now you understand Keith, I’m just walking on the side of the road, with my guitar, I’ve got work. I’m minding my own business. It’s cotton-picking time. This white man pulls up in his truck and decides for me that I’m gonna work for him. He’s got a gun pointed at my head. I get in his truck along with the others that he’s got in there. That’s how it was in those days.”
You know about this stuff of course, but it is still shocking every time you hear it. I believe that Honeyboy said this happened in 1943.
He told me other stories as well but this particular one is also in his book. Great book by the way! Buy it direct from the publisher, “The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing” by David “Honeyboy” Edwards.
Photo: This is the earliest known photo of David “Honeyboy” Edwards. Mississippi, 1942