Calgary Bluesfest (2009)
At least once in every man's life everything seems to come together magically. When the road leading to such times is long and grueling, the zenith becomes exponentially more rewarding. Bill Homans a.k.a. Watermelon Slim is the extraordinary wheel man behind this redemption story road trip.
In December 2006 Watermelon Slim garnered a record-tying six 2007 Blues Music Award nominations for Artist, Entertainer, Album, Band, Song, and Traditional Album of the Year. Only the likes of B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Robert Cray have ever landed six. His 2006 self-titled release was ranked #1 in MOJO Magazine's 2006 Top Blues CDs, won the 2006 Independent Music Award for Blues Album of the Year, hit #1 on the Living Blues Radio Chart, debuted at #13 on the Billboard Blues Radio Chart ahead of both Robert Cray and North Mississippi Allstars, and won the Blues Critic Award for 2006 Album of the Year.
In April, 2007 Watermelon Slim and The Workers released The Wheel Man, his second for NorthernBlues Music and his fourth album in five years. Jerry Wexler, a huge Watermelon Slim fan after hearing Slim's 2005 self-titled release, eagerly offered to write the liner notes upon listening to early tracks saying Slim "is a one-of-a-kind pickin' 'n'n singing Okie dynamo." The CD hit #1 on the Living Blues Radio Charts, #2 on the Roots Music Blues Charts and debuted in the Top 10 in Billboard's Blues charts.
The Memphis Flyer led it's terrific CD review with the question "Does anyone in modern pop music have a more intriguing biography than Bill "Watermelon Slim" Homans?" Slim was born in Boston and raised in North Carolina listening to his maid sing John Lee Hooker and other blues songs around the house. His father was a progressive attorney and ex-freedom rider and his brother is now a classical musician. Slim dropped out of Middlebury College to enlist for Vietnam. While laid up in a Vietnam hospital bed he taught himself upside-down left-handed slide guitar on a $5 balsawood model using a triangle pick cut from a rusty coffee can top and his Army issued Zippo lighter as the slide.
Returning home an fervent anti-war activist, Slim first appeared on the music scene with the release of the only known record by a veteran during the Vietnam War. The project was Merry Airbrakes, a 1973 protest tinged LP with tracks Country Joe McDonald later covered.
In the following 30 plus years Slim has been a truck driver, forklift operator, sawmiller (where he lost part of his finger), firewood salesman, collection agent, and even officiated funerals. At times he got by as a small time criminal. At one point he was forced to flee Boston where he played peace rallies, sit-ins and rabbleroused musically with the likes of Bonnie Raitt.
He ended up farming watermelons in Oklahoma - hence his stage name and current home base. Somewhere in those decades Slim completed two undergrad degrees in history and journalism.
While roommates, buddies and musical partner with the heavy drinking Henry 'Sunflower' Vestine of Canned Heat, Slim was able to finish a masters degree and member of Mensa, the social networking group reserved for members with certified genius IQs.
Throughout his storied past, it has always been truck driving that Slim returned to. While trucking and hauling industrial waste for thankless bosses at hourly wages to support himself and his family, his id yearned for release of the musician inside. Many of Slim's current songs began a cappella in his rig keeping him awake and entertained.
In 2002 Slim suffered a near fatal heart attack. His brush with death gave him a new perspective on mortality, direction and life ambitions. He says, "Everything I do now has a sharper pleasure to it. I've lived a fuller life than most people could in two. If I go now, I've got a good education, I've lived on three continents, and I've played music with a bunch of immortal blues players. I've fought in a war and against a war. I've seen an awful lot and I've done an awful lot. If my plane went down tomorrow, I'd go out on top."
If it's any indication from raving reviews and features in Guitar One, HARP, Blues Revue, Toronto Star, Chicago Sun-Times, NPR, House of Blues Radio Hour, BBC's World Service Programme, XM Satellite Radio and others, Watermelon Slim may have finally settled in on his chosen vocation.
Watermelon Slim & the Workers