Features Music

Last Bluesman Standing

{mosimage}The story starts close to a river,
at a crossroad. This time it's not the Mississippi (next to which "Honeyboy"
came to this world 92 years ago) but the river Emajõgi in Tartu,
the second most important city of Estonia, and I am not waiting for a young Ralph
to go challenge the skills of Steve Vai, but for Bullfrog Brown, an Estonian
band that is going to open the show for Honeyboy Edwards in Tallinn.

The rest of the ingredients could well be taken from a classical
road movie: a ramshackle car, many miles of road ahead, and the excitement of
young guys who love blues music over all things, looking forward to the chance
of meeting and playing with one of the last blues legends, not even worrying if
they get their gasoline expenses covered or not.

David "Honeyboy" Edwards
is a true living legend. Born in Shaw in the heart of the Mississippi Delta in
1915, he is the last survivor of a generation who basically invented the blues
as we know it. An itinerant musician and gambler, surrounded by women and cheap
bottles of whisky, sleeping many a night under starry skies, Honeyboy spent his
youth wandering the American South, learning and improving his guitar skills
here and there on the dusty street corners of New Orleans, Tennessee,
Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas, playing with Charlie Patton, Tommy
, Tommy McClennan, Sonny Boy Williamson IIHowlin' Wolf and Robert
, the legendary bluesman who – according to legend – achieved an
agreement with the Devil himself, exchanging his soul for the skills of playing
the blues like nobody else. The continuation of the story is well known to
many: Robert Johnson was poisoned with a bottle of whiskey by the owner of a bar
in Honeyboy's hometown of Greenwood,
Mississippi for having an affair
with his wife, and died at only 27 years of age in 1938. But it is heart
touching to hear the story from the lips of Honeyboy during the press
conference minutes before the show; he claims to have been really there when
everything happened: "Robert said that he was not feeling well. We knew
that he was able to drink a lot of whiskey, so we told him to drink a bit more
and that would make him feel better. But no, he did not feel any better…"

Honeyboy Edwards has arrived a few
hours earlier to the Tallinn
international airport, and after taking a nap, looks in excellent shape for a
man of his age. Never without his cap, his Southern accent is difficult to
decipher but at the same time captivating; a presence that sounds and looks
like a reminiscence of other times.

{sidebar id=13}But the most impressive feature is
how accurate and fresh Honeyboy's memory is. He is like a little encyclopedia
of blues music, and can remember places and musicians he played with six decades
ago much better than he remembers his contemporary gigs. "Yes, I played
with that guitarist of The Rolling Stones… what's his name?" he
says while chatting with some inquisitive fans. "That" guitarist is Keith
, who was invited at the end of a gig to play with Honeyboy and Rocky
three years ago at the Boxcar Café, Connecticut. I ask Honeyboy who is the most
impressive musician he has got to know in all these years of a blues life. For
a man who has played or shared stage with basically every legend of the blues
and is widely admired by more contemporary "younger" stars as Eric
or B.B. King, I'm amazed by his humble and emotive answer:
"Well, my daddy is the first musician I saw playing. He is the one who
taught me to play guitar".

One cannot be less than amazed about
Honeyboy's vitality. Sitting on a comfortable sofa at the back of the club, his
manager, Michael Frank, who will accompany Honeboy during the show
playing the harmonica, tells me that they have had almost 8 shows in a row.
"We were playing in Norway last week, then yesterday in Denmark, two days
here in Tallinn, and then to Tampere in Finland". Although having
visited and played in more than 20 countries, this is the first time that they
visit the Baltic region, and they feel really glad to have been given the
chance to play there.

One must wonder, what is the secret
for keeping going on? "Well, playing is my thing, it is what I do.
Before I played for some pennies or a bit of whiskey, now I am lucky I get paid
for this", Honeyboy jokes. And it's not like he keeps himself fit by
leading an austere life. When the waiter comes to offer a drink, Honeyboy
quickly asks for "a couple of beers". But during the
compulsory break in the middle his show, when he can rest and relax, he admits
to me "Yeah sometimes I feel tired, very tired of travelling. But well,
as you see now, I try to take it easy".

As for the show itself, the presence
of Honeyboy in Tallinn
does not go unnoticed among my colleagues in the media. A broad TV and radio
coverage is made while Honeyboy appears in an old Cadillac crossing the old
town towards the club. Raising the temperature inside, Bullfrog Brown finally
has the chance to hit the stage. Their young singer, Alar Kriisa, looks
fragile and skinny, but when he takes the mic, he sings strongly and deeply,
with a confidence that seems like he had been born in the Mississippi delta instead of a small town in
the Estonian South.

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The first part of Honeyboy´s concert
is welcomed effusively by the audience, but it is during the second part after
the break when most of the media members are gone and the atmosphere is more
intimate, when "Honeyboy" gives his best. Classic delta tunes like Catfish Blues, Sweet Home Chicago,
Cross Road
or Rollin' and Tumblin' are displayed in
front of the enthusiastic public. At the end, other musicians are invited to jump on stage
and share some minutes playing with the legend. "Honeyboy" goes on
accompanied by the harmonica of Harry "Dirty Dog" Finèr, who
came straight from Finland, and the guys of Bullfrog Brown, Andres and Üllar,
also get their dream moments of glory.

It is late at night and during the
car trip back to Tartu,
the usually introverted Estonians cannot stop talking about the excitement of
the last hours, having gone through probably the most important gig of their
lives, sharing stage with a blues legend and satisfied, too – they had sold
enough albums to pay for the trip. Some booze, a crying guitar, the memory of
lost loves and always future places in mind to play. The spirit of the blues
goes on.

Photos by Andres Roots and Antonio Díaz

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