Issue 13-21 May 23, 2019

Cover photo © 2019 Laura Carbone


 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Watermelon Slim. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from John Fusco, James Buddy Rogers, Michael Jerome Browne, Henry Townsend and Roosevelt Sykes, Tim Gartland and Jimbo Mathus.

Bob Kieser has photos and commentary from the Tampa Bay Blues Fest.

We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!


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 2019 Blues Blast Music Awards – Save The Date 

The 2019 Blues Blast Music Award submissions have now ended. Nominees will be announced in June. Voting begins in July.

SAVE THE DATE – September 13, 2019 for the Blues Blast Music Awards at Tebala Event Center in Rockford, IL. More details of the 2019 BBMAs coming soon!



 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

John fusco cd imageJohn Fusco – John Fusco And the X-Road Riders

Checkerboard Lounge Records

10 songs – 42 minutes

www.john-fusco.com

Better known as the writer of Crossroads and producer of such other major movies as Young Guns, Hidalgo and The Forbidden Kingdom, John Fusco is also a gifted multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who fuses blues, swamp and soul jazz here to produce an album that’s as successful as his work on the big screen.

A native of Prospect, Conn., Fusco who plays Hammond B-3 organ, piano, organ bass and acoustic guitar, has always had a great love for Delta blues. He left home and high school early in the late ‘70s to scour Mississippi in search of obscure bluesmen, playing the blues himself and working day labor.

He returned home and co-founded the Southern rock group Travis McComb Band, serving as front man, before hitting the pavement with the Dixie Road Ducks out of Virginia. A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School Of The Arts, he worked closely with record producer Jim Dickinson and Ry Cooder, Steve Vai and Frank Frost on Crossroads, and several of his works have included musical themes, most notably the Elvis Presley biography, Last Train To Memphis, and Jackson Browne’s video for “Rockin’ The Rez,” which was a companion piece to Fusco’s film, Thunderheart.

This album was produced and recorded by Jim Dickinson’s son, Cody, at Checkerboard Lounge Studios in Southaven, Miss., a few miles south of Memphis, and features an interesting combination of musicians that includes the North Mississippi All-Stars. The X-Road Riders are primarily a trio with Cody delivering guitar, dobro, piano, electric woogie board and drums and Risse Norman providing additional vocals.

This collection of nine Fusco originals and one cover features guest appearances by Luther Dickinson on guitar, Joshua Clinger on trumpet, Bradley “Baby J” Jewett on sax and rapper Al Kapone on single cuts. And harmonica player Mark Lavoie, once a protégé and driver for Sonny Terry, sits in on a pair.

The action opens slowly with a brief musical gumbo on “Rolling Thunder,” a Southern rocker with deep blues roots. It quickly builds intensity without picking up speed, driven by Fusco’s powerful, smoky voice and work on the keys. Borrowing from the theme of “The New Colossus,” Emma Lazarus’ words that grace the Statue Of Liberty, it’s a plea for peace, love and unity in a nation divided by color into states that are red and blue.

The heaviness of that tune diminishes quickly with a Hill Country feel for “Drink Takes The Man,” which cleverly states: “Man takes a drink/And the drink takes another/Man gets so blind/He doesn’t know his own mother.” The music takes a surprising turn with “Poutine,” a horn- and B-3 driven stop-time pleaser that sings praises of the French Canadian comfort-food staple, a combination of French fries and cheese curds drenched in brown gravy.

Lavoie’s harp opens “Hello, Highway,” a ballad that’s both a love song for a lady and the open road, before the medium-paced blues-rocker, “A Stone’s Throw,” deals with the familiar theme “if you didn’t have bad luck, you’d have no luck at all” as it describes the hurdles most of us face living life every day. “I Got Soul,” a straight-ahead blues sings praise of a life that’s left after rock-‘n’-roll and booze the rear mirror, is up next aided by Jewett, before “Can’t Have Your Cake,” an unhurried rocker with a distinct Allman Brothers feel.

“Boogie On The Bayou” recounts a young man’s first sexual encounter – with a former beauty queen intent upon riling up her cheating man — during a trip to New Orleans before “Once I Pay This Truck Off” comes across with a pleasant country twang. The album closes with Robert Johnson’s “Crossroad Blues,” aided by Kapone and Luther Dickinson, which comes across with a definite Hill Country feel.

Available through Amazon, CDBaby and other outlets, and highly recommended for anyone who loves their blues served with a strong helping of roots.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

james buddy rogers cd imageJames Buddy Rogers – Everytime – Live Blues

www.jamesbuddyrogers.com

JBR Records

5 songs time-21:42

Ok, the good news…Canadian blues-rock guitarist-singer James Buddy Rogers has assembled a first rate live recording with a top notch rhythm section. An interesting side note is that this was the second time that drummer Mike Woodford played with the band. This guy is a quick study. He clicks right in with bass man Slammin’ Mike Wedge.

Now for the bad news…It’s a mini-CD clocking in at just less than twenty two minutes. How does a self respecting reviewer such as I write a full length review with such little to work with?

Well, here goes. The guy happens to possess a smooth voice and surely knows his way around his guitar. The songs are good and all originals. Blues-rock hardly ever relies on sophisticated lyrics, no big deal.

Things kick off with a strong instrumental shuffle “Puddle Jumper” that shows off his dexterous skills on his axe. Blues meets blues-rock on “Come Back To Me”, another shuffle that moseys along quite nicely. James’ voice is sturdy and smooth here as throughout the CD. The title track is a slow burning blues with yearning vocals and tasty bent guitar notes. Now for a full steam ahead all out blues rocker with rapid fire guitar galore. The band shuffles off with the energetic shuffle “All I Need”.

The only thing that puzzles me is that as along as this was recorded live at The Blues Can in Canada, is why didn’t they use more of the recorded show?

Or they could put something on us in a studio recording. Here’s hoping we hear more from James Buddy Rogers and company.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

michael jerome brown cd imageMichael Jerome Browne – That’s Where It’s At!

www.michaeljeromebrowne.com

Borealis Records

14 songs time-43:11

Canadian Michael Jerome Browne presents acoustic interpretations of soul music and its’ various roots via his skilled finger style guitar playing and slightly weathered and soulful voice. He receives drum accompaniment from John McColgan on five songs and additional vocals by Eric Bibb, Harrison Kennedy and Roxanne Potvin on four songs. Michael’s strong guitar tone is a thing of beauty that astounds throughout.

The lead off funky acoustic guitar and drum instrumental “Don’t Ask Me Why” showcases his guitar talent right off. “Black Nights” introduces the listener to Michael’s rustically soulful voice over his finger style and slide guitar techniques. Stevie Wonder’s “Skeletons” is just about as funky you can get with some “herky jerky” guitar rhythms. Another Canadian stalwart Harrison Kennedy blends his voice together with Michael’s on the traditional spiritual “Pharaoh” to great effect.

The masterful singer-songwriter Eric Bibb trades verses on Blind Willie Johnson’s “Everybody Ought To Treat A Stranger Right”, a meeting of two warm and inviting voices. The original “Love’s A Funny Thing” is a jaunty and pleasing little ditty. Roxanne Potvin duets on the original melancholy “Remember When” with just guitar accompaniment. Backed by drums Michael and his guitar commit a strong take on Al Green’s “Here I Am(Come And Take Me)”, even managing the signature riff.

Randy Newman’s tail of a devastating storm “Louisiana 1927” drips with images of history. Michael dusts off his harmonica on Sam Cooke’s “Somebody Have Mercy” to go along with his rhythmic acoustic guitar playing. The lovely instrumental “Curtis’ Blues” offers up a nice change of pace. Harrison Kennedy returns to trade verses on Don Robey’s “That’s The Way Love Is”. A good version of a strong chestnut.

The heart felt original “Where Is The Song?” reflects on the fact that the spirit of events remains with us. “Pharaoh(Reprise”) this time done with a fretless gourd banjo closes out the CD on a religious bent.

The old cliché “Less is more” surely applies here in the hands of a deep feeling artist like this. The combination of his enticing guitar tone, warm vocals and heart touching lyrics makes for a truly enjoyable listening experience. A really nice respite from the usual onslaught of raging blues-rock guitar bands.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.



 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

henry twonsend ann roosevelt sykes album imageHenry Townsend and Roosevelt Sykes – Blues Piano and Guitar

Nighthawk/Omnivore Recordings

CD 1: 15 Songs, 53:00 Minutes – CD 2: 15 Songs, 53:00 Minutes

Styles: Blues Piano and Guitar, Live Album, Previously Unreleased Songs

Get ready for over an hour and a half of classic Blues Piano and Guitar with Henry Townsend and Roosevelt Sykes. Omnivore Recordings has compiled thirty previously unreleased tracks from the year 1973, in a reunion concert at Washington University’s Graham Chapel. According to the Omnivore profile, “Over the course of the evening, the two men backed each other, played some of their hits, welcomed Henry’s wife Vernell in on vocals on a couple tunes [e.g. “Tears Come Rolling Down” on CD 2] and gave the audience a special night to remember. Nighthawk Records founder Leroy Jodie Peterson was in attendance, as was his recording equipment, with pal Steve Fuller making sure it laid down to tape properly.” Most of its songs are originals, with exceptions such as “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Sloppy Drunk Again,” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” Henry Townsend’s diction would never pass muster with Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady, but it’s tailor-made for real-deal blues. Sykes’ piano, as always, is crisp and catchy, providing the perfect complement to his colleague’s melodic guitar.

The album liner notes constitute a mini-biography of the duo, detailing the paths they took (“Henry Townsend, born in 1909 in Shelby, Mississippi, fled the harsh discipline of his father at the tender age of nine.”), the mentors who influenced them (Henry Spaulding, Lee Green, “Red Eyed” Jesse Bell, et al.), and an eventual reunion and celebration of their accomplishments (“In 1987, Henry was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts and received the national Heritage Award. Henry would endure into the new century and become the undisputed patriarch of the St. Louis blues scene.”). Although Roosevelt Sykes passed away in 1983, he penned and performed such classics as “Driving Wheel,” “Nighttime is the Right Time,” and “Dirty Mother for You.” In 1941, he headed for the Windy City and became one of blues’ most prolific pianists.

Henry Townsend stars on vocals and guitar, as does Sykes on vocals and piano. Henry’s wife Vernell guest stars on “Tears Come Rolling Down” and “Why We Love Each Other So.”

The following songs present these two blues virtuosos in the light of their mutual brilliance.

CD 1, Track 14: “Dirty Mother For You” – “Listen closely to the words so you won’t get the wrong understanding, as I have no control over your thoughts,” Mr. Sykes warns the crowd before launching into this ribald rendition. My favorite part? “Now, there’s a fine little sexy-tary. They all call her Terry. All she need now is a big dic-tionary. She gonna be a spelling mother-for-you.” Blues fans, if you aren’t in stitches reading this, wait until you hear the whole song.

CD 2, Track 04: “Gulf Port Boogie” – Number four presents piano blues at its most powerful. Roosevelt pulls out all the stops and makes the crowd go wild with his trilling notes and frenzied tempo, crying out in exultation at opportune moments. Take a spin on the dance floor if you dare.

CD 2, Track 08: “Tears Come Rolling Down” – Henry and Vernell Townsend dive into this duet with grace and style, from the skillfully-picked intro to the va-va-voom vocals. “He kissed me good night, and I knew it meant goodbye,” Vernell laments, her voice teeming with emotion without being overly loud. The audience roars approval at Townsend’s picking in the middle.

Blues Piano and Guitar is a commendable collection of hidden treasures from Roosevelt Sykes and Henry Townsend!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 39 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

tim gartland cd imageTim Gartland – Satisfied

www.timgartland.com

Taste Good Music

10 songs – 38 minutes

Satisfied is Tim Gartland’s first release since 2017’s If You Want A Good Woman (which was warmly reviewed in the 04 January 2017 issue of Blues Blast Magazine). And the good news is that Satisfied follows in the same impressive style as its predecessor, with a collection of 10 sharply-written original songs, a crack band, and sparkling production by Kevin McKendree at The Rock House in Franklin, TN.

Gartland sings in a deep bass voice that recalls Charlie Musselwhite’s hard-lived timbre, although his song-writing style is closer to the wry, tongue-in-cheek story-telling of Delbert McClinton. Like McClinton, Gartland’s songs mix blues with soul, roots rock and country influences. He also plays fine harmonica but he lays down the solos sparingly, thus increasing their impact. He also cleverly mixes up the use of Chromatic, 10 and 12 hole Diatonic and bass harps throughout the album.

The songs themselves are smartly-constructed with clever lyrics that often contain quick-witted word play and unusual half-rhymes. In the rocking opening track, “Drinking For Two”, Gartland bemoans the loss of a girlfriend with the repeated refrain: “Mr Bartender, I need me some elbow room. I’m a party of one but I’m drinking for two” while in the Chuck Berry-esque rock and roll of “Can’t Paint A Prettier Picture”, he swears that not even Michaelangelo (“at his best”), Raphael or Leonardo Da Vinci could paint a picture as pretty as his woman is in real life. In the gentle, country-ish title track, he memorably skewers the pastimes of his risk-taking friends when all Gartland wants to do is play the blues with his friends, drink the occasional glass of Scotch and walk his dog. “You seek all the thrills you can stand. You jump from a bridge tied only to a rubber band… You can tell me all the reasons you sky-drive, but why jump from a plane that’s flying right? … We all got to meet the Grim Reaper some day, but I have no plans to meet him half-way.” But Gartland isn’t just being erudite in his song-writing. A song like “Artifacts” is a genuinely moving testament to lost love.

Gartland’s band is similar to that on If You Want A Good Woman, with Jack Bruno on drums, Steve Mackey on bass, Tom West and Kevin McKendree on piano and organ (West’s piano on “Satisfied” is outstanding) and Robert Frahm on lead and rhythm guitars. Tom Britt lays down some beautiful slide guitar on “Drinking For Two” and “Artifacts” and Wendy Moten provides sumptuous backing vocals that really lift a number of songs, including the soul-blues of “Don’t Make More Trouble” and “Blues For Free” and the reggae-lite of “Why Does The Room Begin To Sway?” Ray Desilvis adds powerful backing vocals to the one-chord grind of “Walk On”.

If you like your blues laid-back and soaked in Southern sensibilities, you will love Satisfied. Great songs, great playing, great production: Satisfied is a very enjoyable release indeed.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.



 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

jimbo mathus cd im,ageJimbo Mathus – Incinerator

Big Legal Mess Records

11 songs – 41 minutes

Jimbo Mathus’ perpetual musical quest opens a fresh new chapter with Incinerator. The Mississippi-born Mathus seems driven to dig deep into every kind of American music, from his swing-jazz revivalists, Squirrel Nut Zippers, to his solo albums where he has essayed country blues (Play Songs For Rosetta and Old Scool Hot Wings), honky tonk country (Jimmy The Kid), roots rock (Stop And Let The Devil Ride) and even psychedelic Southern-gothic rock (Blue Healer and Band of Storms). On albums like Confederate Buddha he gleefully mixes genres from song to song.

On Incinerator, he lays down his usual guitar and plays piano exclusively, backed primarily by Bronson Tew on drums and Drive-By Truckers bassist, Matt Patton (the pair also produced the album, recording it at Dial Back Sound, Water Valley, MS).

The result is an introspective collection of eleven primarily acoustic songs that explore the roots of roots and country music.

The opening track, “You Are Like A Song” is indicative of the album as a whole. With gentle acoustic backing, a country-tinged vocal performance from Mathus and a glorious soaring chorus with harmonised eight-voice gospel backing vocals, it could have been written at any point over the last 60 years. Nearly all the songs follow a similarly slow tempo, whether the threatening electric arpeggios of the title track (imagine if early REM had grown up in Mississippi rather than Georgia), the Etta James-esque torch song of “Really Hurt Someone” or the poignant piano-led “Been Unravelling”.

The lovely drinking song, “South of Laredo”, benefits from another catchy chorus and some tasty lap steel guitar, while “Sunken Road” has a chord progression reminiscent of some of Jimi Hendrix’s quieter moments, and allows Mathus to duet with Lilly Hiatt. Other guests on the album include violinist Andrew Bird, alt-country vocalist/guitarist, Kevin Russell, Ernie Welch (banjo), Steve Butler (fiddle), Bobby Isbell (dobro), Alex Holeman and Schaefer Llana.

The discordant blues-rock of “Alligator Fish”, with its fuzzed guitars, special effects and minimalist chord progression, is the only track on which the pace picks up and even then only to mid-pace.

Mathus has always produced entertaining lyrics and the songs on Incinerator are no exception, ranging from the wryly comic “Jack Told The Devil” (with its enticing opening couplet “Now I don’t know, but I been told, Jack tricked the Devil just to save his soul. Now I ever get sober again, I’m going to track down this Jack and take him for my friend”) to the brooding melancholy of “Never Know Till It’s Gone”.

The album ends with a cover of the Carter Family’s “Give Me The Roses”, a fitting bookend for an album that celebrates early country music. If you’re a blues fan and you don’t already know Jimbo Mathus, you might want to look some of his blusier work initially. If you already know and like him, you will want to pick this album up – it’s a fine addition to his oeuvre. And if you’re a fan of genre-busting artists like Ian Siegal or Doug Sahm, you will definitely want to hear this. It’s a lovely release.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.


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 25th Tampa Bay Blues Fest 

The first act we heard was Spoonful of Blues from Notodden, Norway. Nice set to kick of the festival.

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Next up was another artist from Norway, J.T. Lauritsen & The Buckshot Hunters who kept up a great sound proving there is some great Blues in Norway! J.T. had Terry Hanck playing sax with him. A real treat!

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Next we got to hear the great soul singing of Curtis Salgado. Curtis was in top form and impressed this Blues lover.

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We next heard Samantha Fish. Samantha has become quite popular recently playing an amazing number of Blues festivals. Once you see her, you understand why!

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The headliner on Friday night was Blues rocker Johnny Lang. He did a great set of his amazing guitar playing to finish off a great first day at the Tampa Bay Blues Fest.

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On Saturday we saw a great line up that started off with our friend JP Soars with his Gypsy Blue Revue. JP is an amazing guitar player and his set impressed many including me!

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Next up was Vanessa Collier. Vanessa is a young Blues artists but I guarantee you are going to be hearing more about this amazing performer. Good song writer, check, great singer, check, blazing hot sax player, check and an amazing performer. Make a point to see her!

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Next was Mr. Sipp. Another great artists to put on your list if you have not heard him.

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Next was The Connection with Mike Welch. Mike had lots of guests including a surprise appearance by Curtis Salgado who did the singing for a few songs. It doesn’t get any better than this!

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Next was Shemekia Copeland and the queen of Blues was in top form.

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The Saturday headliner was Boz Scaggs. He put on a great performance to finish out the day’s show.

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On Sunday we were treated to Rosie Ledet & The Zydeco Playboys

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Followed by guitar wizard Mike Zito

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Followed by C.J. Chenier & The Red Hot Louisiana

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Then Bluesman Kenny Neal took the stage to add some real swamp Blues to the show.

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Sunday’s headliner was Tab Benoit and man did they ever save the best for last! It was a great show by a true master performer.

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This was our second time at the Tampa Bay Festival and we highly recommend you put this one on your calendar for next year!

Photos and commentary by Bob Kieser.


 Featured Interview – Watermelon Slim 

watermelon slim photo 1Blues artists come in all shapes and sizes and all forms of life these days, but no one’s more complex than Watermelon Slim, a seemingly uncomplicated artist whose background runs far deeper than most anyone could ever imagine.

Beneath that laid-back exterior, shaded by his familiar broad-brimmed hat and covered in the stylish threads he wears on stage, beneath that outward appearance as a true Southern gentleman beats the heart of one of the most highly educated and deepest thinkers in the blues world.

With a background that includes work as a newspaper reporter, furniture mover, truck driver, watermelon farmer and more, his life is nothing like the straight roads of Oklahoma where he raised crops. It has more twists and turns than the blacktop that wanders through the mountains surrounding Asheville, N.C., his childhood home.

“Most people don’t even know who you are after they meet you,” he chuckles. “I set a low bar for it all.”

By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll know he speaks the truth.

Blues Blast caught up with Slim in mid-April when he was on the street in Clarksdale, Miss., his home for the past few years, and in the midst of multiple conversations as he was making final preparations for the city’s annual Juke Joint Festival, which kicked off the following day.

Despite his Southern roots, Slim came into the world in Boston, Mass., in 1949 as William Homans III. “My parents had me almost on the doorstep…just a rifle shot…from Fenway Park,” he says. “But my mother held me in and got me to the hospital.

“I’m a citizen of Red Sox Nation by birth. But within the next year, my parents moved to Arlington, Va., had my brother and then divorced. I was in North Carolina by the time I was three.

“I’m no Mississippi blues man,” he adds, “but I am a Southern American man, and a non-racist. Boston-born don’t mean a thing. And Southern hospitality is not a myth.”

Homans’ brother remained a Yankee for the rest of his life, but Bill quickly assimilated into his Southern surroundings. His first exposure to the blues came at age five in a region of the nation where Piedmont stylings were born. It was the tail end of Jim Crow politics and an era when true innovators of the music, including Pink Anderson, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Blind Willie McTell and others, were still plying their trade.

Despite being known today as a guitar and harmonica player, the first instrument young Bill picked up was a set of bongos, a gift from his mother at age eight.

“I thought beatniks were cool,” he remembers. “They weren’t high-quality bongos, but they weren’t toys. As far as percussion goes today, I’m probably a conga player or a professional tambourine player. But I’m still a percussionist. It’s part of my musical persona.”

He picked up his first harp in 1960 during a trip to Clearwater, Fla. Back then, it was an inexpensive, accessible instrument that was easy to carry around. “Besides,” he says, “I’m left-handed, so there was no instrument that I was likely to find a teacher of because instruments are basically taught by right-handed people.”

His love for the instrument exploded after hearing “Little” Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips” on the radio. Released in 1963 when Wonder was just 12 years old, it was an instrumental that soared to the pinnacle of Billboard’s pop and soul singles charts, an unusual occurrence in that era when the airwaves were as segregated as most communities across the South.

In later years – during his second stay in Boston, Homans fell under the influence of “Earring” George Mayweather, the Alabama-born harp player who learned at the feet of Little Walter in the early ‘50s. Once a next-door neighbor of guitar legend J.B. Hutto and a founding member of his band, The Hawks, Mayweather also played with Bo Diddley and got an invitation from Muddy Waters to join his band after Walter’s departure.

“George didn’t end up teaching me how to play the harmonica,” Homans says of his mentor. “But more than anybody else, he was the one who made it clear in my head how to do a show – even when he was too drunk to be doing it himself.

“He was my fishing buddy. He’d go fishing with me in the same green suit he played in the night before. And he showed me how to put the whole harmonica-vocal moves thing together. I carry those lessons with me today. He was a character!”

Homans’ first gigs came while attending Middlebury College in Vermont in 1969. That stay was short-lived, however. He flunked out, enlisted in the military and, like so many of his peers, quickly shipped out to Vietnam. It was there that he picked up a guitar for the first time after being laid low by a chronic viral infection that landed him in a military hospital in Cam Rhan Bay.

watermelon slim photo 2“There was this old Vietnamese man, a papa-san in a little commissary the size of about two bathroom stalls, putting ranks and insignias on people’s uniforms with an old, unelectrified sewing machine and selling little tiny knickknacks,” he recalls. “He had this old guitar sitting in a corner.

“I looked at it. I asked him in French: ‘How much?’

“’Five dollars MPC – military payment certificate,’ he said. I gave it to him. It was built out of something a little stronger than balsa wood — the nastiest thing you’ve ever seen, but it did have rusty six strings on it. So I started playing with it, trying to make it make sounds.”

With the instrument laying in his lap, he used a cigarette lighter – a non-military issue one, he insists — as a slide as he attempted to figure his way around the fretboard.

Previous accounts of his background mistakenly reported that it was Government issue, which makes him bristle. “They weren’t giving us lighters to burn down hooches and fields,” he insists. “They had napalm to do that.”

The rudimentary guitar stylings he learned back then remain the foundation for the techniques Slim uses today.

“That’s the only way I know how to play,” he says. “I don’t know how to play chords with my fingers — only open tuning. I have tried to tune to a standard tuning and think I could actually learn that. I know where the differences are. But at this point in my life, I don’t think it would help with the style I’ve got over all these years. So I don’t do it.

“It’s like I don’t play chromatic harmonica. I don’t think it would help what my current music is.”

When Homans was transferred back to the States, the guitar remained behind because of importation restrictions. He quickly picked up another when he got back to the mainland, and has been playing conventional six-strings ever since.

A founding member of both the Boston and Oklahoma Blues Societies, he’s always had strong anti-war sentiments, which contributed to him developing a lifelong bond with Bonnie Raitt, then a burgeoning superstar in the early ‘70s. Their reverence for Mississippi Fred McDowell — who taught Bonnie how to play slide guitar and who was Bill’s early hero along with John Lee Hooker – drew them even closer together.

“It was June the third, 1972, in Fitchburg, Mass., when I met her,” Homans says. “She supported a Vietnam Veterans Against The War action. I sat in with her for the first time that night, and she partied with us afterwards.

“I knew she was a big Fred McDowell fan, and Fred’s was the first music I tried to play in Vietnam. We talked a lot, and I got Fred’s address, and I wrote him a letter the next day.”

Sadly, McDowell would never get a chance to read it.

“July the ninth, 1972, I heard on the radio station WBCN that Fred had died on July the third, 1972, the day that Bonnie gave me his address,” Bill recalls. “So I had written to him when he was one-day dead.

“That’s my ‘Death Letter Blues,’” he says, referring to a song penned by Son House in the ‘30s that became centerpiece of his performances after being “rediscovered” in the ‘60s.

Homans recorded his first album, Merry Airbrakes, in 1973. One of the rarest of all modern blues LPs, it had a pressing of only 100 copies and had songs that dealt with several themes prevalent in the era: drug use, spirituality and the emotional toll of fighting other humans perceived as “enemies” because of political differences. Gracing the cover was a linoleum-block print designed by the musician, who’s been creating and selling artwork for years.

Massachusetts served as Homans’ home for a good portion of the ‘70s, during which, he says, where he was deeply involved both in activism and in trying to find his both his social and sexual identity.

A staunch environmentalist and anti-war activist, he entered into a personal and professional relationship with Richard Hayes Phillips, a highly skilled investigator whose work contributed to several government actions to protect land from pollutants in many forms.

From 1979 to 1998, they were partners both at home and in the field, working on several diverse studies that received national attention.

watermelon slim photo 3Their first efforts dealt with an investigation into the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and its use of 2,4,5-trichlorophoxyacedic acid – a weed killer linked to kidney and nerve damage. They were using it to clear right-of-ways for their transmission towers.

After their findings came to light, the Supreme Court Of New York issued an injunction to block use of the chemical, a primary component of the notorious carcinogenic defoliant Agent Orange used in Vietnam. The Environmental Protection Agency followed up with a permanent ban a year later in 1981.

Phillips and Homans then directed their energies to in Eddy County, N.M., where their investigative efforts into nuclear waste dump sites led to a cleanup conducted under the Federal Superfund Program. Phillips subsequently published the work as his dissertation in pursuit of a Ph.D.

“I was his assistant, bodyguard, chauffeur – and his lover,” Homans says, noting that they were involved in several other studies before parting ways.

Back in Boston, Homans says, he also unearthed an unedited print of the legendary 8-mm. color film of the Kennedy assassination captured by Abraham Zepgruder. He lost it to decay along with several other treasures while living in a trailer in Oklahoma in later years.

“I’m not into tithing,” he admits, “and I’m not good about keeping up with things.”

More recently, Bill served as team leader for an investigation at South Dakota’s Standing Rock Indian Reservation. He secured aerial photo evidence revealing that the Energy Transfer Partners conglomerate was continuing to drill holes in search of natural gas after being barred from doing so by an injunction filed by Army Corps Of Engineers over fears of water pollution.

That study still rubs Homans raw. He remains appalled because that information his team unearthed was delayed from release for so long that it was virtually ignored when it was and the damage was already done.

“It’s like what Napoleon said: ‘It’s not necessary to suppress the truth,’” he sighs. “‘It’s only necessary to hold it back until people aren’t interested anymore.’”

Homans began farming on a whim, he says, after he and Phillips moved to Pushmataha County in southeastern Oklahoma in 1980. It was a small-scale operation that produced cantaloupes, artichokes and watermelons.

“That’s how I got my name,” he says. “I was standing out in the middle of a field of watermelons I grew, and took a harmonica out of my pocket. I had it in one hand and was eating a piece of watermelon with the other.

“I looked at it and looked at the harmonica…bingo! Suddenly, I was Watermelon Slim!”

During that period, he also drove a truck and worked in a sawmill, seriously injuring his left shoulder, got married, divorced then earned a bachelor’s degree from the University Of Oregon, a double-majoring in both journalism and history.

Later on, he attended Oklahoma State University, where he took home a master’s degree in history after submitting a thesis tracing the bombing of the Alfred F. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols back to neo-Nazis, a theory, he says, that’s never been debunked.

Then came a failed attempt to launch a musical career in Europe, when he stockpiled vacation time and used it to try to make a name for himself as a soloist in southern England.

“It was 1987, and I got bounced off of some railroad tracks,” he says, “I never went back for 16 years. The next time I did, I had better advice and people I could talk to when somethin’ went wrong.”

Back in the U.S., he returned to Boston and to trucking, hauling everything from household goods to general freight to logs and finally industrial waste, before returning to farming in the Sooner State in 1993.

“People talk to me about work,” Slim says, “and they have no idea what work is.

“These kids have no idea what fingerprinting (inventorying, loading and unloading) an entire 24-ft. truck is and moving it into the house every day. They have no idea about how difficult it is unloading a whole railroad car of cement bags by yourself.

“And that wasn’t as hard as sawmilling.

“I’m not bitching. I’m proud to have been a hard laborer. But I’ve got a shoulder now that I’m not even a candidate now for a normal shoulder replacement. It’s bone on bone, but the orthopedist told me bare it as long as you can. It’s not gonna get appreciably worse.

“Ironically, I can still pick up and carry whatever I have to. I can still actually be a laborer if I had to. If it did, I’d get a job just to see if I could.”

Even a near-fatal heart attack didn’t stop him during his trucking days. He returned to the rigors of physical labor as soon as his was able. It’s an attitude he maintains today. And a couple of days prior to this interview, he handled all the large objects when the daughter of a friend moved across town.

Slim’s been playing in bands fairly steadily since his most recent Oklahoma stay. In the late ‘90s, he hooked up with Doren Recker and Mike Rhodes, a pair of Oklahoma State philosophy professors, to form the band Fried Okra Jones.

Their revolving lineup included guitarist “Texas” Ray Isom and female bass player Honour Hero Havoc. Their eponymous three-song EP, which was released in 2000, includes the tune “(They Call Me) Watermelon Slim,” his first use of the moniker on a record.

watermelon slim photo 4Slim also spent time in Another Roadside Attraction, an eight-member alternative rock ensemble, before finally recording a complete album under his adopted name in 2002. Entitled Big Shoes To Fill, it was produced by multi-instrumentalist Chris Stovall Brown, a longtime musical colleague from Massachusetts, with a lineup that several members of Fried Okra Jones.

It also featured guest appearances by a pair of New England-based musicians who are now stars in their own right: keyboard player Bruce Bears, most famous for his work with Duke Robillard and as band leader for Boston blues queen Toni Lynn Washington, and “Sax” Gordon Beadle, the world-class horn player.

In 2004, Slim was still driving a truck when he released the all-acoustic Up Close & Personal, beginning a professional partnership with producer Chris Hardwick, a relationship that’s resulted in eight albums to date. That album garnered Slim a 2005 nomination for best new artist in the W.C. Handy Awards.

Since then, instead of hauling furniture, freight or industrial waste, he’s been wheel man for his own backup band. Today, he relies on bass player/road manager John Allouise and Mapquest or Google to get him from gig to gig instead of using maps.

“I tore a trucker’s atlas from stem to stern when we were out on the road because John wouldn’t listen to me about where we should be going,” Slim says. Allouise was taking directions from “the GPS lady” and Slim didn’t like it.

He acquiesced after an incident east of Oakland, Calif., taught him that using a computer program was a better choice.

“I finally realized that the functionality of a machine had rendered my superior 20th century geographical education irrelevant,” Slim admits, noting: “I can read a map better than anybody you sit down with. I’m certified to teach the subject at a high school level.”

But he’s still not happy.

“If that woman was married to me, she’d need a restraining order!” he says.

Even though Slim and The Workers lost out to Robert Randolph in the 2005 Handy voting, they’ve been consistently up for awards ever since. Now known as the Blues Music Awards, they received honors band and album of the year three years later. Dozens more honors have followed, including six BMA nominations in one year alone.

Honored as international artist of the year in Canada’s Maple Awards, Slim’s trophy case – if he has one – also includes prizes from both the Independent Music Awards and Mojo Magazine for album of the year. And he’s also picked up three Blues Blast Music Awards nominations along the way.

The late Jerry Wexler, co-owner of Atlantic Records and the man who produced Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and others, penned the liner notes for Slim’s 2007 release, The Wheel Man, calling him “a one-of-a-kind pickin’ ‘n’ singin’ dynamo.” And the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper described him as “a genuine blues character, something that’s in short supply these days.”

Through it all, however, Slim remains modest and humble.

The world of music has changed for the worse in recent years, he says stoically. “It’s a minor-league, working class musical career that I’ve got. I don’t want to put out any illusions that I’m some great big old star or that anything I do is likely to make me explode.

“But I do have a damn good record out there right now.”

Entitled Church Of The Blues, it’s a collection of everything from straight-ahead Delta blues to strong political statements that weave together his originals with covers penned by Allen Toussaint, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chicago sax man Gene Barge, Tom McFarland and Fred McDowell.

The opener, “St. Peter’s Ledger,” sets the theme and was penned by Ronnie Lereaux Meaders, a longtime friend from Springfield, Mo. Both a trucker and harp player, he was in Clarksdale the day Blues Blast and Slim spoke.

He was manning a commercial barbeque grill in preparation for the festival, pre-cooking ribs in advance of the festivities. Slim’s been the minority owner of Bluesberry Café, the restaurant where he plays frequently for the past few years, and Meaders was giving them a hand in their preparations. Slim bought in, he says, as an act of community service, not as a financial investment to make money, which his bottom line in the operation clearly shows.

“I wrote song in 2012 with Slim in mind,” Meaders says. “I quit driving for a while to take care of my dad who passed away a few years ago at 93.”

It’s written from the perspective of someone who’s lived life on the edge and always in debt. The man gets to the Pearly Gates, discovers that all the entries about him in St. Peter’s book are underscored in red then pleads for mercy, claiming he’s lived a good life despite all his troubles.

watermelon slim photo 5“I just tell everybody that Slim plays it a helluva lot better than I do,” Ronnie jokes.

The thirteenth release in the Slim’s catalog, the disc features an all-star lineup that includes Bob Margolin, John Nemeth, Nick Schnebelen, Albert Castiglia, Joe Louis Walker, Sherman Holmes and a full horn section. It’s been extremely well received since debuting in January.

In the midst of promoting the album during the past few months, Slim also announced to the world something that he’s known for most of his life: that he is a gay man. The news barely made a ripple, he says, but the response he’s received has all been positive in nature.

And that’s a good thing, he says, adding: “Everybody knows that if anyone gets in my face and be an asshole about it, they’re gonna fly out faster than they fly in. I’ve never had any gay-bashing problems.

“I’d rather have done it (made the announcement) in a position of power like most people in the entertainment business do…‘Here’s my lover’…‘Here’s my husband’…‘Here’s my girlfriend’ or whatever.”

That was impossible, however, because “I’m no closer to anybody now than all those years I’ve been separated. I wish I had more response.”

Unlike the flamboyant Jason Ricci, a bisexual who’s now in a happy, heterosexual relationship, Slim insists: “I’m a standard old man who has lived straight, been straight…done the entire nine yards…wife…child…but I’ve been gay all the time. I was just doing what was expected of me. Now, I want to be a happily married gay man by the time I pass on.

“I’ve been a responsible heterosexual man – except that I’m gay!

“It’s not that I don’t love women. I’ve loved all my women very honorably and well. I don’t want any dependents, and I don’t want to have to figure out any more why women are really mad at me.

“I know for a fact that I’ve had to fail at a whole bunch of things in order to have any sort of perspective on living now this late in life.”

His political views remain consistent, however. As a writer under his birth name, his commentary pieces frequently appear on the www.opednews.com website. It’s an effort, he infers, that’s akin to Don Quixote tilting against windmills because “we’ve already said everything we can about how out of control it all is right now. What is me saying it going to do to achieve justice now?”

Another constant is his never-ending appreciation for the folks who come to his shows, buy his albums and keep food on his table.

“God bless all you fans who’ve made it even marginally goin’ on as long as I have with this and likin’ it the way you do,” Slim says. “We are a culture without borders, and I’m as proud to be a part of the musical culture as I am to have been a working man. May you all be happy.

“As the old blues man said – I forget which one it was: ‘If it weren’t for you, wouldn’t be no us!’

Find out more about Slim, pick up his albums and find out where he’s playing next by visiting his website: www.watermelonslim.com.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.



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The Blues Society of Western New York – Buffalo, NY

The Blues Society of Western New York in conjunction with Music Is Art presents the Nurs’n Blues Music Fest, Saturday, May 25 from 3pm to 10pm at The Cove, 4701 Transit Rd., in Depew, NY. $20. donation in advance, $25. (door). Info: http://wnyblues.org . Proceeds benefit Nurs’n Blues Therapy Program, that uses Blues Music Therapy for those struggling with chemical dependency. Two stages with continuous music all day long, headlined by Grammy nominee, blues guitar great, Kenny Neal. Also performing: Robert “Freightrain” Parker; Jeremy Keyes Band; Grace Stumberg and Grace Lougen; Hanna PK; 12 Pack Jack McArdle; Sheila Connors; and the Patti Parks Band (Parks is the creator of the Nurs’n Blues Music Fest). Now in its fourth year, the program has served over one-thousand clients and families.

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Shows start at 7 pm, and are open to the public. Food and Beverages available at all Friends of the Blues shows. June 4 – Ben Levin (piano) w/ Aron Levin, Marty Binder, and Chris Bernhardt – Kankakee Valley Boat Club, July 30 – Frank Bang – Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmens’ Club, August 3 – The Nouveaux Honkies – Inside Out – Gilman IL, August 15 – Albert Castiglia – The Longbranch – L’Erable IL. More Info at: http://www.facebook.com/friendsoftheblues.

The Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society is pleased to announce that our June Blues Bash will feature Chris O’Leary Band. Their 5th CD “7 minutes Late” is on the American Showplace Label. Now on tour to support the release of the new album. The show will be held Sunday, June 2nd, at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205. Admission is free for members with valid cards and $5 to everyone else. A limited number of reserved seats/tables will be available online through the website, for $10 each. Doors at 7:00; music at 8:00. It will be a great evening of music!

We continue to collect non-perishable food and household items for our charity partner, Loaves and Fishes. It’s our goal to collect one ton of donations this year to help stamp out hunger in Charlotte. Cash donations are also welcome. 1 Can? I Can! More info at https://charlottebluessociety.org.

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances and other shows held at the Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 7:00pm to 11:00pm. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.  May 27 – J.P. Soars & the Red Hots, June 3 – Chris Ruest – Eve Monsees & Mike Buck, June 10 – Guitar Shorty, June 12 – OddsLane CD Release Party 6:00 PM, June 17 – The Bridgett Kelly Band, June 24 – The 44’s.


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