Let’s pretend that Honeyboy Edwards is 65 years old. Listen to the strong, spare, Delta blues acoustic guitar riffs. Listen to the gruff, phlegmy, declamatory vocals that soar into clearer, wounded high-tones when he leans into something like the plea (“baby don’t cha wanna go?”) in the chorus of his original blues hit, “Sweet Home Chicago.” Yup, Honeyboy is worth catching for the music alone, not for the cache and curio of being an old bluesman.
Except that we’re at the point where age matters. We’re down to a handful of folks on earth who could plausibly claim to have been around when the blues were really quickening into being; when the folks from the Mississippi Delta hadn’t yet migrated to the northern cities, plugged in and laid the rudiments for rock and roll. Honeyboy Edwards isn’t 65, he’s 93. He used to play on a regular basis with Robert Johnson. Alan Lomax made some field recordings with him in 1942.
Right around this time last spring, I traveled to an out-of-the-way roadhouse just north of Milwaukee to hear another blues pioneer, 95-year old pianist Pinetop Perkins, who shared a 2008 Grammy with Honeyboy, Robert Lockwood Jr. and Henry James Townsend for their album, “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas.” There was something undeniably magical about hearing one of the originals in action; compromised, sure, but still going strong. Corny as it sounds, Pinetop exuded an essence in his music that I don’t believe succeeding generations can duplicate.
Among that quartet of Grammy-winning “Last Bluesmen,” Lockwood and Townsend have died. But Honeyboy Edwards is still around, and will play the Dakota Wednesday and Thursday (March 18-19) with his longtime harmonica companion Michael Frank and a second guitarist. Listen to him here bellowing “I know my time ain’t long,” on “Catfish Blues.” Or catch him here, performing “Sweet Home Chicago” two years ago in Toledo, a song he’s sure to reprise at the Dakota. Baby, don’t cha wanna go?
Honeyboy Edwards at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant, Wednesday and Thursday, March 18-19, 7 p.m.; $20 in advance, $25 day of show.