Artist: Watermelon Slim
Album: Travelin’ Man
Label: Northern Blues
Release Date: 3.27.2020
This is the unfiltered, unfettered Watermelon Slim, as natural and unpretentious as can be. Those who have seen his solo act can surely attest that few can connect with an audience like Slim can. These performances from 2016 were recorded live at two small venues in his home state of Oklahoma. This double CD set, Travelin’ Man, reveals Slim doing it in his authentic, raw style, alone with his slide guitar, harmonica, and crusty vocals. Now the uninitiated can get a sense of his special talents.
We’ll spare you what could be two pages of Slim’s (William P. Homans III), amazing biography, but suffice it to say he holds two masters’ degrees and is Mensa-smart. He’s an outspoken Vietnam vet and has been a truck driver, forklift operator, sawmiller (where he lost part of a finger), firewood salesman, collection agent, funeral officiator and at times a small-time criminal. Due to the last, Slim was forced to flee Boston and landed in his current home state of Oklahoma farming watermelons—hence his stage name.
His acute sense of observation, his array of occupations, and what has now become his famed truckdriver persona enable him to draw from a deep well of stories, both autobiographical and otherwise. His singing and guitar playing is anything but conventional, but therein lies much of his appeal. Disc One was recorded at The Blue Door in Oklahoma City, site of many great live albums. He lays down his own original truck driving-themed songs such as “Blue Freightliner Blues,” “Truck Driving Songs,’ “Scalemaster Blues” and “300 Miles;” mixing them with his main inspiration, Mississippi Fred’s “61 Highway Blues” and “Frisco Line.” He also covers Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” and Muddy’s “Two Trains Running.” Even when he covers a tune from an icon, he puts his own spin on it lyrically, rhythmically, and with a phrasing totally his own. For the last track, he sings one of his trademark hollers, “Holler #4,” displaying as he does throughout, his unique slide guitar slide, for which he uses mini-bottle, one inch socket, or seashell.
Disc Two is culled from The Depot in Norman, OK and contains only eight tracks versus Disc One’s 13. They are all originals excepting the traditional “John Henry.” Some, like “Oklahoma Blues,” he’s been performing for 30 years, These too, are story songs, some going back to his vintage Watermelon Slim & the Workers era, but not linked thematically as the first truck driving disc. Again, the slide playing is stunning, often sounding like multiple guitars, even on a song like “John Henry” which has been covered countless times. “Dark Genius” is about JFK, a glimpse of Slim’s political side.
Slim’s career has been roller coaster like but is back on the upswing. He took the blues world by storm about 10-12 years ago with 17 Blues Music Award nominations in a four-year period. Despite this, his act, for whatever inexplicable reason, wore thin with promoters and booking agents and the usual gigs dried up. The resilient Slim rebounded. His 2019 Church of the Blues received two BMA nominations for “Album of the Year” and “Traditional Album of the Year.” This release effectively leverages that newfound acclaim. This is a true master at work. It’s impossible to not appreciate his authenticity.