Watermelon Slim and The Workers at Pearl, Dallas, Texas
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Watermelon Slim has got to be to be livin’ the life these days.
He’s got quite a bio, hard knocks, hard times, hard work and all the while “making sure the boss gets paid.” Now that his own dues are paid- in spades, he says he finally gets to practice his true vocation. Bluesman.
And if you go see him play, you get to hear all about it.
I got hipped to him by a friend who sent me his second CD, The Wheel Man, for Christmas. It had me with the first spin.
He had the room, and a very nice room it was, from the minute he took the stage. Stepping up to his guitar, which was laid on a table and surrounded by what seemed like a hundred harmonicas and another hundred more various objects (his mojo- you can’t buy mojo, someone’s got to give it to you) he introduced himself and mentioned how impressed he was by the turnout, seeing as how he’d never played there before.
He kind of looked like he could be Tom Waits taller, more hardscrabble, half brother.
Then the band kicked in and he started playing and it all made sense. All the critical props and blues award nominations (6 total for Wheel Man) seemed only right.
The man rocks.
In between songs he talked about his life, all of it: the truck driving gigs, both over the road and short haul, his stint back in the seventies as a small time crook : “I just had too good a heart to keep living outside the law,” his time in Vietnam, where he learned to play slide guitar while laid up in the hospital, his estranged daughter- whom he dedicated a song to, his politics: “if we have 2.5 billion dollars a week for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq, how come we don’t have 2.5 billion a week for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Gulf Coast?”
He mentioned his intention to get to Iraq before the years end and play for the troops.
He even divulged the origins of his name: standing in his five acre watermelon field in SE Oklahoma back in 1980, with a harmonica in one hand and a slice of watermelon in the other, it dawned on him- “I got a blues name!”
The Workers, Ronnie “Mac” McMillan on guitar, Cliff Belcher on bass and Michael Newberry on drums kept things tight. But it was Slim out front, wailing on the harp, stepping off the stage and dancing, singing through a toothless mouth and laying down some sweet licks with all the various things, mostly those little liquor bottles, he used for slides.
He said you never need to by a slide since you can find one in any liquor cabinet, kitchen drawer, toolbox etc. And he proved it.
He might have been the most unpretentious artist I’ve ever seen play. He had a true original sound, even for a genre like the blues where it seems anything that can be done already has. He made it all sound fresh. And very honest.
During the second set the stories got longer and he kind of rambled a bit too long here and there, but he was so damn charming you couldn’t help but love the guy. By the end of the show you felt like you actually knew him.
If you were paying attention, you did.
Near the end he announced the band would stand by silently while he personally thanked everyone who stayed. And that’s what he did- walked through the crowd playing his harp and thanking everyone who was there.
You sure don’t see that every day.