The Last Of The Great Mississippi Delta Blues Men Took To Dallas
People in the shadows helped him to stand, and he crossed into the spotlight, taking slow deliberate steps, carefully placing each foot until he reached the plain wooden chair placed in the stage's center.
The crowd, full of students from across the metroplex, was on its feet screaming from the moment he appeared.
Handed his guitar, he takes it in hand, strums the instrument, and tunes its strings. With a glance at the audience, a small knowing smile crosses his face, and he begins to play. His hands pull sound out of the instrument with incredible power considering his age, and his voice rips and wails across the chords and figures.
“It’s wonderful to me,” he says later. “All of the people. The bigger the crowd I play for, the better I play.”
Takenya Byers, an Oak Cliff music school teacher looks back at her children as everybody else is clapping enthusiastically--but not quite on the beat. She lays it out for her fifth grade charges, a solid snap landing right in the groove, and her class is looks cool and knowing, snapping on the beat in the front row of the Meyerson.
The reason the Meyerson Symphony Center looked like it had been attacked by a horde of yellow school buses on Friday morning was because schools from districts across the region, including Plano, Lewisville and Dallas, had brought their students for fifteen dollars apiece (with scholarships for those who couldn’t afford it) to see David "Honeyboy" Edwards and Pinetop Perkins.
They are two of the last living links to the blues tradition.
Edwards was a friend or acquaintance of some of the greatest names of the age. He knew…well, he knew everybody. Big Joe Turner was his mentor. He drank with Tommy Johnson. He was friends with Robert Johnson, King of the Mississippi Delta Blues, who famously recorded thirteen of twenty seven known tracks (including “Me and the Devil Blues” and “Hellhound on My Trail”) at 508 Park Avenue in Dallas. Edwards was there the night Johnson was poisoned (when the hounds of hell caught up with him as legend has it). Edwards used to play Dallas, too, and recalled performing in Deep Ellum and hanging around Oak Cliff with T-bone Walker. He was around for some of the great moments in blues history, but not having died tragically or young, he has never been quite as famous as his contemporaries. Pinetop Perkins, 95, is called the King of Boogie Woogie Piano, and he'd played with Muddy Waters as part of the Chicago electric blues sound.
The show was organized by the Blue Shoe Legends Program, a creation of Jeff Dyson and his son Michael, in an effort to expose children to the blues and teach them about it. Since establishing the educational program in 2004, over 30,000 students have been introduced to the blues tradition through it.
Back in 2004, the father and son recorded a live album in Dallas with four bluesmen (only "Honeyboy" and Pinetop are still alive) called Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Blues. Unexpectedly, the album won a Grammy earlier this year, and the Dysons have been trying to get the two surviving artists to come and perform for the project itself ever since.
“It’s funny, you know, because they weren’t really doing much before, and then after they won this Grammy with us, it’s been almost impossible to get them,” Mike Dyson says, laughing. “But it’s still awesome to get to see them play.”
Dyson, in a navy pinstriped suit, white backwards baseball cap and blue and white sneakers acted as the emcee for the event. During the two performances (at 10:30 am and 12:00 pm) he comes bounding onto the stage, a smile almost splitting his face as he speaks into the microphone over the steady din of 2,000 students from fifth grade to high school who chattered and wriggled excitedly in the plush velvet seat.
Many of the schools who attended on Friday had already had introductory programs at the schools themselves. “I’m here to see the Honey man,” a fifth grader says, while her friends nod I agreement. “He plays the blues.”
Asked if he has any advice for the kids Edwards says, “What you like to do--music, or singing or whatever--don’t stop doing what you’re doing. Just keep on doing it. That’s what I did and if you just keep on doing what you love. Things’ll work out.” --Dianna Wray