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Honeyboy Edwards Goes to Harvard

The story of David "Honeyboy" Edwards reads like the history of the blues itself. Born in Shaw, Mississippi in 1915, he not only witnessed such originators of the Delta blues style Charley Patton firsthand but also performed as a young man with such historic players as Robert Johnson and "Big" Joe Williams. He was recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1942 and has lived in Chicago for the last forty years. With each passing year Honeyboy's pre-eminence as a living master of the form becomes more and more clear. On a pleasant late summer night in the shadow of Harvard University at Club Passim, one of Boston's oldest folk music clubs, Honeyboy gave a full house of blues aficionados an unforgettable lesson in the blues. Accompanying him on harmonica was longtime associate and supporter Michael Frank.

Honeyboy Edwards played the acoustic guitar with authority, style and a bit more precision than anyone could reasonably expect from a man of his advanced years. Michael Frank's accompaniment was tasteful and subdued, serving to frame Edwards' words and music instead of calling attention to itself. Mr. Frank also helped to direct the show, making suggestions to Honeyboy Edwards at various points in the evening and addressing the crowd.

Club Passim was in many ways the perfect venue for Mr. Edwards. While the Mississippi of the thirties may no longer be around, coffeehouses like Club Passim were and are an important part of the preservation and presentation of folk music. The crowd on hand was both appreciative and knowledgeable about Edwards' music and legacy.

Honeyboy played his own songs, blues standards, and songs associated with other artists. Midway through the second set, Frank asked Mr. Edwards to tell a little bit of his life story to the crowd. The narrative that followed was one of the highlights of the evening, as Honeyboy shared some of his experiences with the crowd. For about twenty minutes he spoke about his youth in Greenwood, Mississippi and touring as a teenager with Big Joe Williams and interacting with Roosevelt Sykes and other greats. His description of the difficulties of playing a cracked guitar in those days made for an amusing contrast with beautiful Taylor acoustic he had on stage with him. Prompted by the audience, he talked about being given the name Honeyboy as a young child and playing with Robert Johnson.

This bit of oral history set up the rest of the show and made both more meaningful; when he returned to playing, it was with a few solo performances that paid tribute other Delta players. He did a powerful version of "High Water Everywhere," slapping the guitar strings in the manner of Charley Patton, than switched to "Spanish" (open G) tuning and picked up the slide for a powerful rendition of Robert Johnson's "Walking Blues." Michael Frank didn't mind being left behind for a while; as he explained, "I enjoy listening to him play solo as much as anyone." It was perfect ending of two spellbinding hours of performance.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: David Edwards
  • Concert Date: 8/25/2004
  • Subtitle: A Veritable Seminar from a Blues Legend in Cambridge
  • Venue: Club Passim
  • City State Country: Cambridge, MA
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