Interview with Watermelon Slim

0
80
Watermelon Slim
Watermelon Slim

Interview by Scott Preston

At least once in every man’s life everything seems to come together magically. When the road leading to such times is long and grueling, the zenith becomes exponentially more rewarding. Bill Homans a.k.a. Watermelon Slim is the extraordinary wheel man behind this redemption story road trip.

In December 2006 Watermelon Slim garnered a record-tying six 2007 Blues Music Award nominations for Artist, Entertainer, Album, Band, Song, and Traditional Album of the Year. Only the likes of B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Robert Cray have ever landed six. His 2006 self-titled release was ranked #1 in MOJO Magazine’s 2006 Top Blues CDs, won the 2006 Independent Music Award for Blues Album of the Year, hit #1 on the Living Blues Radio Chart, debuted at #13 on the Billboard Blues Radio Chart ahead of both Robert Cray and North Mississippi Allstars, and won the Blues Critic Award for 2006 Album of the Year.

In April, 2007 Watermelon Slim and The Workers released The Wheel Man, his second for NorthernBlues Music and his fourth album in five years. Jerry Wexler, a huge Watermelon Slim fan after hearing Slim’s 2005 self-titled release, eagerly offered to write the liner notes upon listening to early tracks saying Slim “is a one-of-a-kind pickin’ ‘n’n singing Okie dynamo.” The CD hit #1 on the Living Blues Radio Charts, #2 on the Roots Music Blues Charts and debuted in the Top 10 in Billboard’s Blues charts. (from watermelonslim.com)

Cincy Groove: It seems you have won just about every blues award there is.

Watermelon Slim: Well, I am going to give you an update on that. I just got a call from Fred Litwin, the President of Northern Blues. Northern Blues is the label I have been recording with for the last several years. Fred tells me that I have won the Maple Blues Award for International Artist.

Cincy Groove: I also see you have been nominated for 6 2008 Blues Music Awards. Only Robert Cray, BB King and Buddy guy have had that many nominations in one year

Watermelon Slim: Yes we did and actually we are the only ones to ever get 6 nominations 2 years in a row. No one has been nominated in 9 different categories over 3 years either. But let me put this in perspective for you Scott. Before there was anything called the Handy Award or a Blues Music Award, the reward for a blues man or blues woman for that matter, was having a pocket full of money after the gig at the end of the night. Also knowing that you had a place to sleep that night and having a place to play the next night so you can get yourself another box full of change. Folks that received that kind of reward made the path for folks like me a little bit easier. Its not all about us, but about a historical process.

Cincy Groove: Could you tell me how you taught yourself to play guitar?

Watermelon Slim: Well, I was in Vietnam. I ended up getting sick and was in the hospital while I was in Vietnam. There was this $5 Japanese balsa wood guitar at one of the concessions stands that the Vietnamese would sometimes have on the bases. So I started playing while I was recovering in the hospital. I play left handed backwards slide guitar, I don’t know any other way to play. If you asked me to play a chord on a guitar I couldn’t do it. I first used a lighter for a slide that had a picture of Snoopy on it and ended up cutting a piece of plastic out of a coffee can lid for a pick. Before that I used a quarter. I have always used makeshift stuff to play with.

If you see me play at my shows, you will sometimes see 12, 13, 14 different objects on the table that I use as slides. They might be made of glass, metal, I have even played with a rock.

Cincy Groove: I see that you made your first record in 1973.

Watermelon Slim: It was actually the only album made by a Vietnam veteran while the war was still going on. I didn’t make it in Vietnam, I was there in 69-70, but I made the record in Boston, MA. The reason it wasn’t a seller was that while I was busy negotiating with the Atlantic Records, specifically with the guy who produced Eat a Peach and Wheels of Fire, the OPEC oil embargo happened. Suddenly the price of making records jumped 3-400 hundred percent because the price of oil jumped. I didn’t make another recording that was even thought about being released for another 28 years.

Cincy Groove: You seem to be making up for lost time.

Watermelon Slim: Well I have been. I’ll be 59 in April which isn’t dreadfully old but I have lived a very physical life and I’m getting to be an old man. I can’t think I have that much time left to get all the stuff done that I want to do.

Cincy Groove: You just released your latest cd “The Wheel Man” just last year?

Watermelon Slim: Yes we did and we have another one in the can right now. It will probably be released right before the Handy Awards and the title of the record is “No Paid Holidays”. Which is pretty much how this music business goes. Most of the jobs I have had didn’t have paid holidays or medical benefits.

Cincy Groove: Did you collaborate with anyone on your new record?

Watermelon Slim: I can’t tell you I did, but I will not tell you that Dr John will not be on it. Its in negotiations between him and Fred Litwin at Northern Blues (my record label). There is a song I have submitted to Dr John through Northern Blues, so he may be on this record. I’m not sure what songs will be on the record yet. Over what amounted to 4 days in the studio we recorded 26 songs.

Cincy Groove: Tell me about your Masters degree.

Watermelon Slim: My Masters degree is in History. There’s only one degree that is more useless than History and that would be Philosophy. My greatest hero in the History profession is Howard Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the United States”. The very first song on this new record is called “Blues for Howard”. Its a tribute to one of the greatest historians of the 20th and now 21st century.

Cincy Groove: Who were some of your influences when you started playing the blues?

Watermelon Slim: Pretty much the usual suspects, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Magic Slim. I moved past sounding like anybody else years ago. I know I can’t play as fast as Stevie Ray Vaughn but I’m competent enough on guitar and I would like to think a little more than competent on the harp.

One of the best harp players of the 21st century is Jason Reese. Jason Reese is as fast as they come and he has great tone and he plays the blues. Some of my harp influences probably goes back to Big Walter Horton and passes through directly to George Merryweather. Thats the man who I have probably heard do more live blues than any other harp player in the world. He was my mentor and fishing buddy.

Watermelon Slim & The Workers :
Watermelon Slim – slide guitar and harp
Michael Newberry – drums
Ronnie McMullen Jr – guitar
Cliff Belcher – bass

Upcoming Watermelon Slim shows:
For complete shows details and tour schedule visit Watermelon Slim’s website –
http://watermelonslim.com

March 2008
7 Oklahoma City, OK VZD’s
11 St Louis, MO BB’s Jazz & Blues
12 Nashville, TN Bourbon St
13 Marysville, TN Brackin’s Pub
14 Dayton, OH Gilly’s
15 Marietta, OH River City Blues Festival
20 Sonderborg, Denmark Sonderborghus
21 Aalborg, Denmark Skraeen
23 Copenhagen, Denmark Mojo
26 Esbjerg, Denmark Tobakken
27 Odense, Denmark Postone
29 Lillehammer, Norway Lillehammer Blues Festival

April 2008
3 Barcelona, Spain Blues & Ritmes Festival
9 Hot Springs, AR Maxine’s
10 Tulsa, OK Plan B
11 Kansas City, MO Knuckleheads
12 Springfield, MO Blues Down Under
17 Oklahoma City, OK Blue Door (Slim solo)
18 Clarksdale, MS Ground Zero
19 Jackson, MS Martin’s
23 Des Moines, IA Blues On Grand
24 Minneapolis, MN Famous Dave’s
25 Chicago, IL Legend’s
26 Rhinelander, WI WXPR Presents @ Taj Mahall Northwoods Banquet Center