This year may mark the centennial of the birth of the late legendary
Delta bluesman Robert Johnson, but David “Honeyboy” Edwards is nearing
the century mark himself. Born on June 28, 1915, in Mississippi, the
living legend will celebrate his 96th birthday this year and is still feeling the blues deep enough to keep on performing live. Honeyboy, a contemporary of Johnson who, according to lore, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his uncanny
musical talent, is readying himself once more for a set of tour dates
honoring his old friend, who died in 1938 at the young age of 27.
“Blues at the Crossroad: The Robert Johnson Centennial Concerts” kicks off tomorrow in San Francisco before bringing its lineup–including Honeyboy Edwards, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Hubert Sumlin, and Cedric Burnside & Lightin' Malcolm–to the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa on Saturday. The title of the series hearkens back to the Mississippi crossroads of Highways 61 and 49, where Johnson was said to have made his Faustian bargain.
Prior to the onset of the weeks-long tour, Honeyboy and the other performing musicians gathered at Ardent Recording Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, to put together an accompanying album. Big Head Blues Club: 100 Years of Robert Johnson is scheduled to be released on March 1.
The great-grandson of slaves and the son of sharecroppers, Honeyboy, who last year was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, finds himself the living link to the fellow Delta bluesman at the center of all the festivities. He had befriended Johnson and was present at his last performance at the Juke Joint outside Greenwood, Mississippi, where it was said the musician drank poisoned whiskey, ultimately leading to his death. Though other theories exist, Honeyboy confirms from experience that a jealous boyfriend was the culprit that night and was motivated by Johnson taking a liking to his lover.
Whiskey and women were the two greatest temptations for Johnson, as his fellow Delta bluesman tells it. Honeyboy, one of only two original such musicians left alive and still performing, will be in OC this weekend to share such stories, as well as the music he began recording decades ago in 1942, thanks to an archival-minded man named Alan Lomax.
To miss out onthe opportunity to be in the presence of living music history . . . well, that might just be enough to give you a deep case of the blues.
David “Honeyboy” Edwards performs as part of the Blues at the Crossroads: The Robert Johnson Centennial Concerts series at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts' Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 615 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; www.scfta.org. Sat., Jan. 29, 8 p.m. Tickets starting at $25.