Watermelon Slim - Bio

 

Watermelon Slim
Photo by Konrad Eek

 

 

Bill Homans, a.k.a 'Watermelon Slim' has a storied past from which he draws experience and fodder for the eighteen tracks on his latest release Up Close and Personal on Southern Records. Watermelon Slim first appeared on the music scene in the early 1970s as the only Vietnam veteran to record a full length LP album during the Vietnam war, a 1973 protest-tinged "underground" release entitled Merry Airbrakes. In the subsequent years his original material has been reissued and performed by anti-establishment icons such as Country Joe McDonald. He developed friendships and musical bonds with Barbara Dane, roommate Henry 'Sunflower' Vestine of Canned Heat, and his dear fishing buddy, seminal Chicago blues harp plyer 'Earring George' Mayweather. In his 30 years of music he has played with Vestine, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, the late John Lee Hooker, in Paris with expatriate New Orleans barrel-house piano player Champion Jack Dupree, Boston's leading blues guitarist and producer Chris Stovall Brown, and most recently with Muddy Waters' guitarist 'Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin. But not until recently did he fully chase the dream.

Less than six months after leaving his most latest truckdriviing job, hauling industrial waste, Slim is now making a living as a full time touring bluesman. The decision was predominantly the result of a recent and nearly fatal heart attack, and the renewed perspective on mortality that followed. Logically, why drive industrial waste around Oklahoma to dispose of when one can drive bandmates around the United States to play music and entertain? Pleasingly, the blues community has officially recognized him as one of the best contemporary blues artists with a nomination for a 2005 W.C. Handy Award for Best New Artist Debut.

One would think that the experiences and tribulations of heart attacks, relationships, and decades behind the wheel would be sufficient foundations for his blues and roots songwriting. Not quite. Over the years Slim has satisfied his thirst for academic knowledge. In 1986 he earned an honors degree in History and a degree in Journalism from the University of Oregon in Eugene. In 2000 Slim received a masters degree in History from Oklahoma State University. Outside the classroom Slim was a member of MENSA International, an exclusive society limited to those with genius range IQs. There is no bravado in his voice when he states "I am probably the most literate bluesman in the world - or no less than Taj Mahal anyway.

"However," he cautions, "the further through things I think, the more it ends up being the blues. 'Who increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow', the scripture reads, though I can't quote you the chapter and verse. It's enough to make a saint cuss, enough to make a strong man cry."

Despite - or perhaps because of - the aforementioned educational pursuits Slim has always lived the life of a bluesman. "Through all my life, then and now, I have been a blue-collar laborer and trucker, which has much more to do with my blues than all my intellectual activities," he says.

"There are three themes in the blues I usually sing: work, frustrated expectations (in relationships, of course, but not limited to them), and consciousness of personal mortality. I'm gonna die. I have a trucker's face and hands; I am the trucker's face and hands. I may yet die a trucker."

He continues, "I sing what I have lived, in the blues. You might say I am a musical journalist in the same way that the late Mississippi bluesman Robert Pete Williams was. Now, I write and perform an array of Americana and American roots music and just like the blues, that's part of my North Carolina roots. But when I'm doing any kind of music, although I remain completely individualistic, I consider my audience, and I suspect that you will say that that material is a bit more universally accessible. Mom and girls and trucks and trains and booze.

"Now, that's all in the blues too, of course. But I'm an old man now, and when I really just surrender to reality, the only thing left to me is to write about it and sing it, and the blues it lays on me comes out of my mouth and fingers. And the more bitter the reality, the more like broken glass my guitar playing gets."

In May 2004 Slim toured through the United Kingdom, impressing festival and club audiences with his musicianship. On tour, he paid homage to a great personal influence, the English evolutionary existentialist philosopher Colin Wilson, and shared his enthusiasm and knowledge of Shakespearean and Elizabethan/Jacobean drama from the stages of the UK blues venues and festivals. The English blues world is awaiting his second tour, from May 10 to May 30 this year.

Slim's selection as featured performer at The Blues Foundation's BluesFirst Weekend in Memphis, Tenn. in 2004 and coast to coast non-commercial radio play created a sizeable pre-release buzz and played a large part in his recent Handy nomination for Best New Artist Debut.

Watermelon Slim's Up Close & Personal garners Best New Artist Debut nomination for 2005 W.C. Handy Awards - within six months of leaving his day job for a life of a touring blues and roots musician.


Winner of the Blues Foundation’s 2008 Blues Music Awards (formerly W.C. Handy Awards) for 'Band of the Year' and ‘Album of the Year’ for The Wheel Man.