William P. Homans III, AKA Watermelon Slim, Clarksdale, and the Blues Trail
A year and a half ago I left Las Vegas to do the Blues Tour from Memphis to New Orleans. Yea, it was one of those bucket list things. AND, YES, there is an APP for that. So off I went in my vintage Black Lincoln Town Car Blues Mobile. It took two and a half days to reach Memphis. I discovered Blind Mississippi Morris at the Blues Cafe across the street from the B.B. King establishment. More on him in a subsequent blog. I visited the Gibson factory and took in a few minutes of a Zombie Parade. Then I got the hell out of Memphis, heading to Clarksdale. If I had it to do over again, I would fly straight to Clarksdale and stay there for a week.
There are plenty of cool things to do and see in Clarksdale, and it will be a subject for an upcoming blog post. There is an establishment there simply known as Red's. Let's call it a Mississippi Juke Joint. It is an old music store. Back in the day it was called "Levine's Music Center," and it's where Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm bought the instruments that played the first rock 'n roll song, "Rocket *88."
So I pull in one Sunday night in July. Inside, Watermelon Slim is layin' it down on a guitar laid out on a table, playing it with a slide while singing. He looked to be about my age. So during the break, I go out to my car. Next thing I know, he's getting into the old white Chrysler minivan next to me. He's rolling a joint. So we strike up a conversation. Turns out, he's also from Oklahoma. He's also a Viet Nam veteran. "By 1979, he felt adrift in the Boston area and naively decided to move to Oklahoma, buy some land and earn a living as a farmer. He grew many different crops, from cantaloupes to artichokes, but the farm was never a financial success, merely a sideline. Homans later admitted that watermelons were the one crop on which never lost money. " Homans has been performing since the 1970s and has been linked to several notable blues musicians, including John Lee Hooker, Robert Cray, Bonnie Raitt, Country Joe McDonald, Henry Vestine of Canned Heat, and many others. He plays his Dobro guitar lap-style, lefthanded and backwards, with a lap dog slide.
Born in Boston, he spent most of his life driving a truck in NE Oklahoma despite having earned a Masters degree from Oklahoma State University, where I also attended school. "Slim has been a truck driver, forklift operator, saw miller (where he lost a partial finger), firewood salesman, collection agent, funeral officiator and at times a small time criminal. Due to aforementioned criminality, Slim was forced to flee Boston. " He landed in Oklahoma.
In 1972-73, Homans met Bonnie Raitt at one of her performances. Both Raitt and Homans shared the same musical hero, Mississippi Fred McDowell,an established star who had actually been Raitt's teacher.
Paste Magazine writes “He’s one hell of a bottleneck guitarist, and he’s got that cry in his voice that only the greatest singers in the genre have had before him.”
In 2005 he was nominated for a W. C. Handy Award.
He just released "Church of the Blues."
Check it out.