In the early 21st century, living links to the immortal Robert Johnson were few. After the passing of Robert Jr. Lockwood in 2006, David "Honeyboy" Edwards was generally regarded as the last of the Delta bluesmen who had actually played and traveled with Johnson himself, and with Edwards' death in Chicago in August 2011 at age 96, that last link passed into history. For much of his life, Edwards was something of an underappreciated figure, but not in his latter years -- his slashing, Delta-drenched guitar and gruff vocals were as authentic as Delta blues ever got.
Edwards had it tough growing up in Mississippi, but his blues prowess (his childhood pals included Tommy McClennan and Robert Petway) impressed Big Joe Williams enough to take him under his wing. Rambling around the South, Honeyboy experienced the great Charley Patton and played often with Johnson. Musicologist Alan Lomax came to Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1942 and captured Edwards for Library of Congress-sponsored posterity. Commercial prospects for the guitarist were scant, however -- a 1951 78 for Artist Record Co., "Build a Cave" (as Mr. Honey), and four 1953 sides for Chess that laid unissued until "Drop Down Mama" turned up 17 years later on an anthology constituted the bulk of his early recorded legacy, although Edwards was in Chicago from the mid-'50s on.
The guitarist met young harpist/blues aficionado Michael Frank in 1972. Four years later, they formed the Honeyboy Edwards Blues Band to break into Chicago's then-fledgling North Side club scene; they also worked as a duo (and continued to do so on occasion for many years thereafter). When Frank inaugurated his Earwig label, he enlisted Honeyboy and his longtime pals Sunnyland Slim, Big Walter Horton, Floyd Jones, and Kansas City Red to cut a rather informal album, Old Friends, as his second release in 1979. In 1992, Earwig assembled Delta Bluesman, a stunning combination of unexpurgated Library of Congress masters and then-recent performances that showed Edwards had lost none of his blues fire. He remained active up through the first decade of the 21st century, collaborating with Henry Townsend (who died in 2006), Pinetop Perkins (another legendary bluesman from Edwards' generation who died in 2011), and Lockwood on Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas, which won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album. David "Honeyboy" Edwards also received a lifetime achievement Grammy Award in 2010. ~ Bill Dahl