David 'Honeyboy' Edwards: Delta bluesman who played with Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson

David "Honeyboy" Edwards was, almost certainly, the last surviving link with the "Golden Age" of the Delta blues. A friend and associate of many of the genre's seminal figures, including the great Robert Johnson, he was a performer of versatility, integrity and power who continued to hold audiences in his thrall into his tenth decade.

Born to sharecropper parents on a cotton plantation at Shaw, Mississippi in 1915, his formative years were spent living under the repressive shadow of "Jim Crow" racial segregation laws. Family members, including his father, taught him to play the guitar and as a youngster he was able to observe performances by artists of the calibre of Charley Patton – but it was Big Joe Williams whom he would later cite as his primary mentor. Williams led an itinerant existence playing on street corners and at juke joints throughout the region and the young Edwards emulated him.

During this time he met Johnson, a musician whose enigmatic life and death have assured him legendary status. Edwards was present when Johnson died one August night in 1938, poisoned by a jealous husband, and later found himself much in-demand by academics and journalists who were keen to disentangle fact from fiction in their assessment of the now-legendary bluesman.

In 1942, Alan Lomax encountered Edwards whilst he was singing on the streets of Clarksdale, Mississippi. The great musicologist was, at that time, in the midst of a song-collecting expedition for the Library of Congress and later recalled his initial impressions in his book, The Land Where the Blues Began (1993):

"A black felt hat cocked on the back of his head, his powerful hands dancing along the neck of the guitar, he sucked and puffed with furious energy at the harmonica held up to his mouth on a steel frame, the instrument gleaming against his skin like a wide silver smile."

Lomax eventually recorded a number of Edwards's performances, though none were released at the time, before following the singer's advice and seeking out a local musician named McKinley Morganfield; in time Morganfield would achieve iconic status as the bluesman Muddy Waters.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s Edwards continued to live an itinerant life, joining harmonica virtuoso Little Walter in Chicago, recording "Who May Your Regular Be" as Mr. Honey for ARC in Houston, Texas and under his own name for Sam Phillips in Memphis. In 1953 he cut a number of sides for the Chess label and enjoyed a minor R&B hit with "Drop Down Mama". He became a mainstay of the Chicago scene, though without enjoying mainstream success, and found himself increasingly marginalised as soul emerged as a popular musical form. Over the following two decades he recorded only sporadically, and at times supplemented his income by undertaking factory work.

The resurgence of interest in the pre-war blues that developed out of the folk revival of the 50s and 60s reignited the careers of several of the survivors from that earlier era, Edwards, eventually, amongst them. He signed to Earwig Records, a label founded by a young, white blues enthusiast named Michael Frank, and recorded acclaimed albums for them, including Old Friends (1979) and Roamin' and Ramblin' (2008).

In 1996 Edwards was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and, a year later, published a frank autobiography, The World Don't Owe Me Nothing. In 2002 he was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts and was the subject of a documentary, Honeyboy. In 2007 he made a cameo appearance in Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story, a parody of the Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line, that has since gained cult status.

In 2008 he won a Grammy award for Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen, a valuable record of a 2004 concert in Dallas, Texas in which he performed alongside fellow Delta blues veterans Pinetop Perkins, Henry Townsend and Robert Lockwood, Jr, and, in 2009, he fittingly received a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement. His last public performance was in April of this year when, aged 95, he played the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi; he was scheduled to perform a gig in Chicago on the day of his death.

Paul Wadey

David Edwards, guitarist and singer: born Shaw, Mississippi 28 June 1915; married (one daughter, one step-daughter); died Chicago 29 August 2011.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'