He lived a long, full life, His manager quotes him saying: “The world don’t owe me nothing.” Just shy of his 96th birthday, David “Honeyboy” Edwards played his last gigs at the Juke Joint Festival and Cathead Mini-Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi April 16 and 17, 2011.
Prior to his health turning for the worse in late April, “Honeyboy” was scheduled to play numerous gigs in Chicago, across the USA and in Europe, including today at Millennium Park in Chicago for the noon time concert series.
Edwards was born in Shaw, Mississippi. He was 14 years old when he left home to travel with bluesman Big Joe Williams, beginning the life as an itinerant musician which he led throughout the 1930s and 1940s. He performed with and was a friend of blues musician Robert Johnson. Honeyboy was present on the night Johnson drank poisoned whiskey which killed him, and his story has become the definitive version of Johnson’s demise. Edwards knew and played with many of the leading bluesmen in the Mississippi Delta: Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, and Johnny Shines.
He described the itinerant bluesman’s life:
“On Saturday, somebody like me or Robert Johnson would go into one of these little towns, play for nickels and dimes. And sometimes, you know, you could be playin’ and have such a big crowd that it would block the whole street. Then the police would come around, and then I’d go to another town and where I could play at. But most of the time, they would let you play. Then sometimes the man who owned a country store would give us something like a couple of dollars to play on a Saturday afternoon. We could hitchhike, transfer from truck to truck, or if we couldn’t catch one of them, we’d go to the train yard, ’cause the railroad was all through that part of the country then . . . we might hop a freight, go to St. Louis or Chicago. Or we might hear about where a job was paying off – a highway crew, a railroad job, a levee camp there along the river, or some place in the country where a lot of people were workin’ on a farm. You could go there and play and everybody would hand you some money. I didn’t have a special place then. Anywhere was home. Where I do good, I stay. When it gets bad and dull, I’m gone.”
Edwards earned his nickname “Honeyboy” from his sister, who told his mother to “look at honey boy” when he stumbled as he learned to walk as a toddler.