East Side Slim
Slim & The Workers – No Paid Holidays
NorthernBlues Records, 2008
This CD, No Paid Holidays, marks the 3rd release
by Watermelon Slim & The Workers on the NorthernBlues
label. Each release has garnered Slim and the band
more attention and accolades, and deservedly so.
Watermelon Slim (born William “Bill”
Homans) is one of the most passionate bluesmen working
today, and is skilled as a vocalist, songwriter,
lyricist, slide-guitarist, guitarist, and harp player.
He’s also an artist, a member of MENSA, and
one of the most interesting characters you will
ever have the pleasure of meeting.
Slim’s band, The Workers, are an incredible
band to have behind him. They are his road band
as well as his studio band. Slim and the Workers
ARE a band. The Workers consists of Cliff Belcher
on bass (and merchandise sales), Ronnie “Mack”
McMullen on electric guitar, and Michael Newberry
on drums (and band arrangements.) Of special note
is the manner in which Watermelon Slim plays slide
guitar. Rather than having the guitar hang in front
of on a strap, he lays his dobro on a table or board
in front of him on supports as he stands upright
and plays it as if it was a lap steel guitar. He
also places all sorts of mojo items on the table,
usually knocking several of them to the floor over
the course of the night due to his animated playing
style. If you have a chance to catch the band, DO
IT; you won’t regret it.
Mr. Homans has an interesting history. He was raised
in North Carolina and served in Vietnam, where he
was wounded. He released an antiwar LP in 1973 titled
Merry Airbrakes. He’s been a truck driver
on and off for years, has served as a driver for
certain slightly nefarious characters in the Boston
area (see the song “The Wheel Man” from
his last cd), and has seen fit to move to Oklahoma
and raise Watermelons. He’s also an artist
and has earned multiple college degrees. Slim released
2 CDs with the band Fried Okra Jones (on the Southern
Records label) in the early 2000s prior to hooking
up with The Workers. As you can see, he tends to
keep himself very busy.
Songs: All songs written by William P.
Homans (Watermelon Slim) unless indicated otherwise.
Blues For Howard: -- Song #1 in a 14 song
program, and a winner all the way. This up-tempo
tune prominently features Slim’s slide guitar
work, and features a piano solo provided by guest
player David Maxwell.
Archetypal Blues No. 2: -- Listen for the
line “most of my heroes are dead”. Slim
sings here about how spiritual the blues can be,
and name-checks some of his main influences. This
tune is hot moving shuffle fueled by the slide work
Slim. He tears that guitar up here!
Call My Job: (Perkins/Williams) -- This
is the same song made “famous” (at least
in blues circles) by Detroit Jr. (Emory Williams).
The Workers put a nice funky edge of the tune, and
Slim brings out his harp for the first time on the
CD – showing that his skills on harmonica
are very solid.
Dad In The Distance: -- The tempo slows
here after 3 tough up- to mid-tempo tunes. It’s
a melancholy blues with outstanding drum work by
Michael Newberry – Newberry is The Worker’s
secret weapon. Slim uses his slide guitar to great
effect, using it as another voice in the song. All
the fathers out there, listen to this one closely,
as Slim sings about how difficult it can be sometimes
to let go of your children as they grow and move
on into their own lives, not needing you any longer
in the manner that they once did. It’s a great
song, and really should be considered for year-end
awards for blues song of the year.
You’re The One I Need: (Ronald Lee
“Ronnie ‘Mack’ McMullen”
McMulen, Jr ) -- This song follows a laid-back Latin
beat (listen to Newberry again!) Once again Slim
pulls out his harp, and shows off a little here
– but only as it fits the song (noodlers take
note, don’t overplay.) The man can play harp!
This is a very strong track.
Bubba’s Blues: -- Slim & The
Workers bring the tempo and edge back up on this
song. The slide is back, with guest slide guitar
player Lee Roy Parnell contributing the slide to
this song. The tune rides a mid-tempo shuffle groove,
but smokes due to the guitar work and due to Slim’s
vocal delivery. He can sing you softly to sleep
or raise the rafters, and a little of everything
in between. Slim’s philosophies for living
are sung about in this song. Again, it’s another
hard blues shuffle with loads of slide work. The
Workers simply excel at this type of song, so strap
yourself in and enjoy the ride! I don’t think
old Slim would expect anything less.
And When I Die: (Laura Nyro) -- This song
is a huge change of pace from the last couple of
songs. It’s an acoustic solo piece, with just
Slim singin’ and tootin’ a little bit
of harp. Slim always includes a couple of solo-type
tunes on his CDs. In this song Slim tells about
how he’d like to pass along into the hereafter,
with no demons on his trail.
Into The Sunset: (William P. Homans/Michael
Newberry) -- We’ve got a slide-fueled blues
boogie tune here. You can feel yourself traveling
down the road, man – courtesy of Michael Newberry’s
drumming! There’s great lyrical imagery (of
the Old West) present, which Slim takes pride in
delivering to the listener. In fact, most all of
his songs paint lyrical pictures of sorts, including
the cover songs he chooses to perform. Listening
to this tune is downright addictive, but listen
Gearzy’s Boogie: -- Now this tune
is hot! It’s the only instrumental on the
CD, and features Slim blowing the reeds out of his
harp! Take a breath, Slim!!
This Traveling Life: -- This song finds
Slim in field holler mode. He’s hollerin’
a prayer of thanks to God about flying to Australia/New
Zealand to play his music for the good people “down
under” and for being able to have experienced
the things in life he’s had the chance to
see and hear. In lesser hands trying to pull off
a song like this could become maudlin or insincere,
but due to Slim’s authenticity and passion
the results are outstanding – inspiring and
powerful would be better words.
Max The Baseball Clown: -- This is another
solo acoustic piece, this time with Slim singing
his story and playing acoustic guitar. The song
is about Max Patkin, who was a clown who entertained
at ballparks across America for decades. Max was
playing ballparks before the idea of the “San
Diego” chicken was even hatched. Are you old
enough to remember Max? I am, and I saw him once
when I was a very young boy.
The Bloody Burmese Blues: -- This is a
very powerful contemporary electric blues song.
It could very well be the best song on the CD, and
could be another contender for song of the year.
The lyrics are about Slim viewing the atrocities
committed against people by their governments, and
how “we” should stop being innocent
bystanders and do something positive to put an end
to human suffering at the hands of other humans.
I’ve Got A Toothache: -- The title
says it all. Slim talks this one out over a sparse
band arrangement, describing the agony of a toothache
he’s experienced and how it’s making
him very blue.
Everybody’s Down On Me: (“Mississippi”
Fred McDowell) -- The last song on the CD, which
is a cover of a Mississippi Fred McDowell tune.
Watermelon Slim is playing solo dobro slide and
singing here. Slim performs the song with great
respect for the original, playing it in the spirit
of McDowell’s version. It certainly showcases
just how powerful a performer Watermelon Slim is,
displaying his passion and sincerity for the blues
and for his blues heroes. Amazing!
I wholeheartedly recommend this CD to anyone reading
this review. Watermelon Slim & The Workers are
one of the most entertaining bands you will hear
anywhere. Slim is incredibly passionate in his vocal
delivery and in his guitar and harp playing. To
paraphrase NorthernBlues chief Fred Litwin, “Sli
is one of the most honest bluesmen alive”.
The Workers are extremely tight, and each musician
in the band more than knows his way around his chosen
instrument. The Workers can flat out play! This
is the 3rd CD from Watermelon Slim & The Workers
on the NorthernBlues label, and it is every bit
as good as the 1st one. Hopefully there will be
many more releases to come from these fellas from
Oklahoma. I’m going to give this album a rating
of 4.75 on the STLBluesometer scale. It’s
a good ‘un!!
"East Side Slim"