Thirty-four years ago a Vietnam war veteran by the name of Bill Homans lay in an army hospital bed and taught himself how to play upside-down slide guitar using a triangle pick cut from a rusty coffee can top and used an army issued Zippo lighter as the slide. On Tuesday July 24th at Vancouver Canada’s Yale Hotel, a premier blues club on the west coast, Homans’ alter ego Watermelon Slim one of the most respected blues musicians alive continued the trend by using an assortment of unconventional items as to play his slide guitar. His talent never in question and his energy level never waning Watermelon Slim thrilled his fans with two outstanding sets of music.
Dressed completely in black Slim opened his first set with "King Bee," and by playing his trademark harmonica. Backed by his band The Workers, consisting of drummer Mike Newberry, electric bass guitar player Cliff Belcher and rhythm guitarist Ronnie Mack, the foursome immediately sent a buzz through the patrons of the Yale Hotel with their electrifying riffs.
In true blues fashion most of his songs were ballads including "Ash Tray," played with a sparkplug for his pick and "Devil’s Cadillac," co-written with Mike Newberry. "Devil’s Cadillac" may have been his best slide guitar performance of the evening. The strings seemed to sizzle and patrons danced in a-it doesn’t seem right to refer to it as a mosh bit at a blues concert, so let’s call it a swamp, in front of the stage.
The band played "Oklahoma Blues" at the request of a member of the audience. As he was introducing the requested tune, Slim told the audience he planned on using a saltshaker for his pick. Later in the song, Slim switched to some ear bending notes from one of the many harmonicas that he played on this night. The song had a great guitar groove that was masterfully performed by Mack and Belcher. Newberry established a strong backbeat.
Slim announced that he was dedicating "Dumpster Blues" to Vancouver’s public service workers, particularly those employed in waste disposal. A wag from the crowd hollered out, ‘They are on strike,’ to which Slim hollered back, ‘Well by golly I’m going to do it for them anyway!’ During "Dumpster Blues," Mack and Belcher treated the audience to a scintillating duet.
Watermelon Slim’s popularity preceded him to Vancouver, as the large venue was packed, an impressive turnout for a middle of the week concert on a balmy evening.
Numerous times during the concert, Slim moved to the front of the stage, or to floor level personally serenading his fans with his vocals and harmonica. At one point, he did a lively jig while playing.
I have seen a lot of entertainers over the years but Watermelon Slim certainly is near the top of the list of individuals who leave everything they have on the stage. Whatever the people paid for their tickets to this concert was not enough.