This reissue is dedicated to the memory of Big Walter Horton, Floyd Jones, Kansas City Red, Sunnyland Slim, and Honeyboy Edwards—all of whom have passed on to Blues Heaven. These five bluesmen are the musicians whose musical and personal friendship and wisdom inspired me to get actively involved in the music business as more than just a fan. Though they were not the first musicians I recorded on Earwig, I began soaking up their experience and playing harmonica with them in 1972.
As a result of this recording session, the quintet played at Carnegie Hall and the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1981. The Honeyboy Edwards Blues Band without Walter and Sunnyland worked in the USA and Canada until 1985, when the musicians went back to their separate activities.
Walter died first, on December 8, 1981, just a month after he played brilliantly at a concert in Utrecht, Holland. The songs on this record on which Walter plays are some of his last recordings.
Walter’s death hit Floyd Jones hard. The close friend he hung out with almost every day was gone, and Floyd was already struggling with emphysema and other health problems. After the death of his brother Fred, Floyd deteriorated in health, passing away December 19, 1989. His performances on this record were some of his last recordings. They demonstrate the fervor and creative lyric talent that he put into all of his music.
After Floyd’s death, Kansas City Red, Honeyboy Edwards, and Sunnyland Slim continued playing music in their usual locales—Red every Sunday entertaining his crowd of regulars and friends at the V&J Lounge on Chicago’s West Side, and Honeyboy playing to great audiences at festivals and clubs worldwide, in fact everywhere except for Chicago clubs, which still infrequently hire solo blues performers. Honeyboy was the most prolific recording artist of the three, recording for Folkways, Wolf, Blue Suit, Earwig, Analogue Productions Originals, and various film and video companies doing documentaries about the blues.
Sunnyland, until early 1993, played his weekly Sunday night sets at the Chicago club B.L.U.E.S., where musicians on their nights off came by to pay their respects and to sit in. Sunnyland continued to play major festivals and Chicago clubs until shortly before his death. He died March 17, 1995, in Chicago, several years after his health began to decline as a result of being knocked to the sidewalk in front of his home by a strong wind. He left a hole in the Chicago blues scene that will never be filled. He has been sorely missed by all who knew him and benefited from his musical and personal wisdom and encouragement.
Kansas City Red played his last major engagement at the 1991 Chicago Blues Festival, where he finally started to get some major recognition in the town where he had played over forty years without the benefit of many records to raise his musical profile. The only records ever issued on Red were on small independent labels—Barrelhouse, Wolf, and the last, on Earwig. This was so despite the fact that during the heyday of Chicago blues in the 1950s and 1960s Red was leading bands that included Earl Hooker, Big Walter Horton, Jimmy Reed, Blind John Davis, Moose Walker, and numerous others.
Kansas City Red died of cancer on his 65th birthday, May 7, 1991. The additional songs by Red on this reissue were ones he recorded in 1979 and 1980 and are heard here on record for the first time.
Honeyboy Edwards and I played many more gigs all over the world, than we did while Honeyboy’s compatriots were alive. I continued to manage his career and play harmonica with him, as I had done since the 1970s. He and I often thought of Floyd, Walter, Slim and Red, and reflected on those long-ago jam sessions among friends.
Honeyboy and his childhood friend, pianist Pinetop Perkins, soldiered on after the last of their old friends in their nineties died in 2006. Both continued to tour through the Spring of 2011. Their renown had increased as a result of their being the last surviving musicians from the early days of blues history. They were both recipients of numerous blues and music industry awards, including the Grammy Award in 2008, and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.