Watermelon Slim, aka Bill Homans, got his stage name from when he raised watermelons for a time in Pushmataha County. It's just one chapter in a remarkable life that's truly an all-American saga.
Homans has worked a variety of blue collar jobs famously including over-the-road truck driver. He also holds a university graduate degree. It was during recovery in a hospital bed that he taught himself to play guitar as a U.S. Army infantryman in Vietnam.
Homans is an anti-war and anti-nuclear energy activist, father of a 23-year-old daughter and student of the world. He has played the blues all over the blue planet and garnered a number of awards along the way. Slim will be bringing that experience and virtuosity to The Depot, 200 S. Jones for a concert Sunday evening.
“You can expect from me 100 percent of the time that it's like it will be the very last chance I get to play,” Slim said. “You're hanging off the cliff by the grapevine and there's a tiger down below and damn that grape tastes good. The show will be intense, personal and I will turn myself inside-out. There will be no choreography about it. As long as there are no equipment failures, I fly this plane just like a crop duster, by the seat of my pants.”
He went on to explain that it's simple, direct music not relying on technical wizardry. Slim allowed that presently he's singing and playing better than any time in his life. He said there will be an emphasis on finger-picking guitar.
Slim was raised in North Carolina. He first heard the blues coming from the throat of his family's female African-American housekeeper in 1954. Slim started his career in New England and relocated to Oklahoma where he lived until six years ago. He's now firmly ensconced in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the epicenter of Delta blues.
“Life is much quieter here than in Oklahoma,” he said. “I'm involved in the community. That includes being a worker and small partner in a restaurant downtown that has breakfast three days a week and a blues music night.”
Judging by the photos posted at their Facebook page, The Bluesberry Café, 235 Yazoo is a swinging place. Slim admitted that he won't ever be a straight-up Mississippi blues man because he was steeped too long in Oklahoma red dirt. And then there are all the other times, places and people who have shaped this unique singer/ songwriter.
“I was seven years old, starting out with live performance,” he said. “Needless to say, that was in church where I learned right away that I could sing harmony to everything in the hymnal.” Choir and glee clubs followed. His professional career began in 1973. The “back to the land” fervor of that era brought him to southeast Oklahoma.
“It was just time to leave New England,” he said. “And I was tired of the cold weather. I bought a place on Big Cedar Creek.” He worked at a lumber company and calls it the hardest job anybody ever loved. The natural world has informed much of Slim's songwriting. His last album is titled “Bull Goose Rooster” (NorthernBlues Music, 2013).
“It was named after a rooster that I met who was the dominant bird in the parking lot of the U.S. Post Office in Key West, Florida,” he said. “Chickens are wild birds there because it used to be a cock fighting capitol and after that was outlawed, many people just let them loose.”
Slim was hand-rolling a cigarette and the rooster thought there might be food in that bag of Bull Durham tobacco. They locked gazes for ten minutes and the encounter became a song, the kind that sets Slim apart from others.
“I'm going to Canada in March to make my first completely Canadian recording,” Slim said. “It will be in Winnipeg and my intent is to eventually visit every Canadian province.”
It's an unsurprising goal for a musician whose driving curiosity is matched only by his passion for the blues.
If You Go
What: Watermelon Slim in concert
Where: The Depot, 200 S. Jones Ave.
When: 7 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 28)