Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sitting in the G-Spot with Honeyboy

David “Honeyboy” Edwards is here, in Los Angeles, tucked away in the corner of this very living room. One of the two remaining original Delta Blues men is twenty feet away; legs crossed in a simple wooden dining chair, argyle socks showing, thick golden rings stuck in wrinkled skin, suspenders, and a ball cap with “Honeyboy” printed across the front. Nearby is a C. Bechstein grand piano that is worth more than this entire swanky Los Angeles hills home. The owner has converted his abode into a Blues club for the evening, aptly named “The G-Spot.” It’s not polite to stare, but the eyes of the small gathering keep shifting in the old legend’s direction. From time to time, his head begins to droop and his eyes begin to nod. At the age of 94, it can be expected. In the last two weeks, he’s flown from Chicago to Los Angeles, played two public shows in Sherman Oaks, is waiting patiently to play at a private one tonight, then must get ready to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy’s on Sunday. The eager crowd can’t help but stare in wonderment.

All visitors tonight have to be on a list, consisting of no more than fifty names, with the location revealed only upon purchasing a ticket. One by one, the guests have checked their coats, wound down the dark adobe-tile stairs, past the mahogany bar stocked with wine and cheese, and into the living room with large corner windows overlooking the cityscape of downtown Los Angeles. Musical equipment has implanted roots all over the space; grown from ceilings and walls, carpet and tile. Up near the bar a few people are perched on a mini balcony, floating above Honeyboy’s row of chairs below. In the miniature stadium area, the front-row seating is comprised of a curved twelve-seat leather couch. The nosebleeds consist of a handful of plastic patio chairs, placed in rows behind the VIP sofa. As the invitees shuffle in and settle, a full Blues band named Jeff Dale and the South Woodlawners takes their place under the yellow lights.

Five grown men, with wedding rings, classy suits, and sparkling instruments fill the focal point of the room. They are too clean for traditional Blues, too LA. Front man, Dale is reminiscent of a younger and bearded Geoffery Rush. Every inch of his demeanor is electric with nerves as he tells stories of his childhood growing up in Chicago, listening to the songs of Honeyboy, and his own history of playing the Blues. Each band member waits patiently between songs with pursed lips and a small bead of sweat building from the corner of his forehead. Their peripheral focus always remains on Honeyboy. Tonight, their paths have aligned with the legend, giving Dale the opportunity to add one more story to his repertoire.

All is cleared, and Honeyboy now sits ten feet away, center stage. Shaky limbs grasp a custom stained-red Gibson Les Paul into the crook of the arm, while a leathered hand helps adjust steadily from the neck, until the groove of the guitar body fits comfortable on the leg. Many of its kind have rested in this niche for over 80 years. A middle-aged man adorned in a full denim getup who has been sipping back Heinekens all night comfortably takes a seat next to Honeyboy. Michael is Honeyboy’s manager, owner of Earwig Music record label, and close confidante. Whisps of grey hair are pulled into a ponytail, complementing a pair of glasses and gentle eyes. He bends over in his seat towards a vintage miniature briefcase on the floor. Unsnapping the metal closures, he pulls out a harmonica in the key of A to play, “Sweet Home Chicago.” Standing up, he introduces his old friend with a compassionate smile and warms the crowd up with a recap of their travels so far.

Honeyboy’s tired hands wake into life with the sound of the blues harp beside. Connected to the guitar, these worn fingers are conscious of every string, every slide, every bend and fret and note and scale. These actions still are as routine to him as making toast, brushing one’s teeth, or riding a bike. With the extension of age, each joint in his rhythmic arms have worn a little rust. A note or two is skipped, but the overall sound is no less traditional than the portrait of Honeyboy playing Delta Blues in his youth. Coarse musical mumbles fill the atmosphere; about the women who chase him, his life growing up in the South, and all the good and bad in between. Cackles burst from his smiling lips when he hits a fond memory, boosting drooping cheeks upward, pupils glowing with excitement. Fifty pairs of eyes do not dare blink or look away. Mouths remain closed in respect during the set, only coming alive with cheers at the close of each tune.

Halfway through the set, Honeyboy begins to tire. Michael pauses the show, and begins plucking musicians out of the crowd to join as special guests. There is a Grammy Award Winner on the trumpet, a music producer armed with a guitar beside Honeyboy, the editor of LA Times on the pristine Hammond B3 organ near the cityscape windows, and the South Woodlawners on drums, harmonica, and guitar. Each musician possesses his own style and background; joining from all corners of the country. For the finale, the stage is snug full of musicians standing and sitting in every nook of the stage. Turning heads look to one another, the drummer gets the go-ahead, and the group begins a jam of the classic Muddy Waters hit, “Got My Mojo Working.” Beer and wine glasses rest empty on tables at this point, and the crowd joins in, gently singing and tapping their toes.

Honeyboy remains seated center stage. He is now free from the bright lights, but not the line of meet-and-greeters. A few stay behind, helping clean, chatting amongst each other as friends, reminiscing about the night, still in disbelief. Dale helps break down the stage area, perpetually wide-eyed, shaking hands, still absorbing the night’s events. Lights begin to dim towards a midnight blue and the crowd continues to thin. Empty bottles and glasses are collected, chairs begin to disappear, and final goodbyes are passed between acquaintances. Up the stairs, grab the overcoat from the rack in the cozy entrance, through the threshold onto the winding road of this LA hillside, and into the night sky. Tonight will remain tucked away as a collection of memories 50 individuals will remember as a lucid dream. But outside the G-Spot, Honeyboy’s legend will remain forever as one of the last surviving cornerstones of Delta Blues.

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