'Honeyboy,' The Last Link To Delta Blues Edwards is one of the last men who knew the iconic bluesman Robert Johnson.

'Honeyboy,' The Last Link To Delta Blues

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This is David Honeyboy Edwards, an original master of Mississippi delta blues.

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Alan Lomax, the great music collector, is in the Library of Congress. Honeyboy Edwards plays his guitar in an old schoolhouse, Clarksburg, Mississippi, 1942.

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Mr. DAVID HONEYBOY EDWARDS (Musician): (Singing) Oh my dear, (unintelligible) how much I'm not a poor man (unintelligible), but some day, baby, you're going to (unintelligible) my life anymore.

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SEABROOK: This is Honeyboy Edwards today in NPR's studio, 93 years old and still touring.

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Mr. EDWARDS: (Singing) Go on, my baby now, going down slow, (unintelligible), waiting on a (unintelligible), but that's all right. I know you love me, girl, but that's all right. But every night and (unintelligible).

Mr. EDWARDS: Honeyboy Edwards is a history book of the blues. He's played with Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters. He was with the legendary Robert Johnson on the day Johnson was poisoned, that story in a minute.

Honeyboy Edwards' long career started in the crucible of American blues, the deep South during Jim Crow.

Mr. EDWARDS: My father was shook up, and at night when he'd come out of the field, he'd get in the cotton shack with a chair and play the blues, shuffle blues, low-down-dirty-shame blues and drank whiskey and get drunk all night.

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SEABROOK: As a child, Edwards learned to play listening. Workers picked cotton all day and played the blues all night. Later on, Honeyboy figured out he could make more money playing music on the weekend than he could working in the fields all week, but at that time if a black man was caught not working during the day, he'd be thrown in jail as a vagrant. So Edwards did what he had to do, he stayed inside.

Mr. EDWARDS: I didn't come out until 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening. That's when everybody was coming out of the fields, didn't know whether I'd been in the field or not.

SEABROOK: What did you do all day?

Mr. EDWARDS: Sleep all day, sleep and cooking (unintelligible). That sun is hot, anyway. It ain't right out there.

SEABROOK: You are a smart man.

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Mr. EDWARDS: (Singing) Baby, you (unintelligible), and baby, you're trouble now, come some day. Just go ahead on, baby, go ahead on, baby now, you can have your way.

SEABROOK: I wish people could see you play because you move, you shake the guitar while you play.

Mr. EDWARDS: Well, I've got to do that to make a sound. I've got to do something.

SEABROOK: I read that you played with Robert Johnson.

Mr. EDWARDS: Yeah, I did in 1937, (unintelligible). Me and him (unintelligible) in and out together until August in '38, and he got poisoned.

SEABROOK: The night Robert Johnson was poisoned, Honeyboy Edwards showed up at a house party Johnson was playing in Three Forks, Mississippi.

Mr. EDWARDS: When we got there, Robert was sitting in the corner with a guitar like I'm holding my guitar now.

SEABROOK: On your lap?

Mr. EDWARDS: Yeah, and he had been playing a little, and Robert was crazy about things, whiskey and women. He was crazy about whiskey and women. What happened, he had been playing for this man out at Three Forks, and the man had a good-looking wife.

SEABROOK: Honeyboy says the jealous husband gave his wife a bottle of corn whiskey to give to Robert Johnson. The whiskey was poisoned.

Mr. EDWARDS: The poison that he put in that whiskey, it killed him a slow killing, you know. He had a slow death. Robert had drink a bit, about half of the whiskey, about a half pint, he started getting sick. People come in, play the blues, Robert, play the blues, play the (unintelligible), play this, play this.

He said oh, I don't feel too good, and the people start, maybe because he loved that whiskey, (unintelligible), they said come on, get another drink. Come on, you'll be all right. After finding out he was really sick, 1938, 16th day of August. I was 23 years old.

Yeah, I've been playing blues a long time.

SEABROOK: Are you still playing in bars?

Mr. EDWARDS: Oh yeah.

SEABROOK: You like that?

Mr. EDWARDS: It's all right, having fun and drinking and talking to the young women, run around having fun.

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SEABROOK: Things haven't changed much, huh?

Mr. EDWARDS: No, I can do anything I ever done, just takes more time.

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SEABROOK: Whoo, how am I supposed to respond to that, huh?

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Mr. EDWARDS: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

SEABROOK: Can I ask you one more question?


SEABROOK: Do your fingers feel different now?

Mr. EDWARDS: My fingers' just as good as it was when I was 20, so far.

SEABROOK: So far, at 93.

Mr. EDWARDS: So far.

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SEABROOK: David Honeyboy Edwards. Head to npr.org to hear more of his in-studio performance with harmonica player Michael Frank.

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Mr. EDWARDS: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

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