Frank Edwards - Timothy Duffy
One of the oldest active American bluesmen, 88-year-old Frank Edwards puts on a sharp hat and suit and drives himself down to the Atlanta blues hotspot Blind Willie's almost every night to hang out. Edwards first recorded six sides for OKeh in 1941; he cut another pair for Regal in Atlanta in 1949, and later recorded an album for Trix, Done Some Travelin', in the early 1970s; he also has a track on Volume Two in Southland's National Downhome Blues Festival series. One of his favorite songs is his wry original Chicken Raid, which tells the story of a preacher coming over for Sunday dinner and eating all the food.
A little place called Washington, Georgia. That's where I was born at [on March 20, 1909]. Way in the cotton patch. Another little boy started me in playin'. The first guitar I bought, my daddy made me carry it back. I wasn't but about eight or nine years old. Didn't pay but a quarter, fifteen cents for it. He made me carry it back to the people I bought it off. He was a big Christian. He didn't want to have it in his house. In them days Christian folk didn't want the blues around. Which I come to find out blues is about the best song there is. It's Christian songs which they ain't nothin'. Nobody want to hear nothin' about dyin'. Blues is somethin' what your gal done to you. [Laughs] They thought that was the devil's songs. Play them songs and the devil get you when you're dead. That's what they thought. Come to find out when you're dead you're done. Ain't gonna be no blues or Christian songs or nothin' else.
I left when I was about 14. I went to Florida, St. Augustine, Florida. And that was the first thing I bought when I got some money, was a guitar. From then on I had one, kept one... wasn't nothin' but an old round-hole wooden guitar. Next thing I bought was an old steel guitar... I looked at other folks, that's the only way I got started. Nobody else was teachin' me... Tampa Red, I used to play around with him [in Florida]. He's the first man made the slide guitar blues. [I] stayed in Florida about five years. Left there and went to Knoxville, Tennessee. Stayed there about five years. I worked at a flour mill a while. I got tired of that and left there, and put the guitar on my shoulder and went to hoboin' and walkin' then. Went everywhere, all over the United States just about. Didn't go too far in the north. New York and Chicago, but I didn't go up to Minnesota and all up in the New England states... but all the rest of 'em, I went and had a guitar on the shoulder. I made enough to eat.
I stayed away from home about 20 years. Left when I was 14 and didn't go back home no more in 20 years after that. Wasn't mad or nothin' like that, but just didn't go back. Just went wild. Hikin' all over the world. Drinkin' plenty of booze in them days, which I don't drink now. Moonshine. That was my favorite drink. But moonshine is the best whiskey to drink anyway... Take your government liquor, you get drunk off that you sick for two or three days. Get drunk off that moonshine and you can get up, get sober, and drink more. [Laughs] Playin' parties, that was all there was in them days. Most of the time in the country. You did play house parties around town, but them days the police used to get at you about playin'. Play on the street they get at you. Wasn't no clubs to amount to nothin' in them days. New York and Chicago, there was a lot of 'em there. But in the South, wasn't no clubs. In other words, the law didn't allow folk to have no fun in them days, white or black. Mostly I went in Louisiana, Arkansas, all back down in there. Tennessee. I used to travel all over Mississippi. I was travelin' around there playin' but couldn't find none of them music fellas. I don't know where they went too. Nothin' but Tommy McClennan and Robert Petway. They about the only ones I knowed down there. Rest of 'em come up later and after they come up, they went to Chicago. That's where I done first recorded at. [Tommy McClennan] was pretty famous in them days. Played around with him about six or eight months. He was makin' records then. He's the one that made Bottle Up and Go and Whiskey Head Woman and all that. Yeah, and I played around with him and I got to where I could play pretty good then. And he got me acquainted with an old man called Lester Melrose in Chicago. That's when I started recordin' then. Quit hoboin' then and catch busses, passenger trains. [Laughs] Lester Melrose was the first man that recorded me. He was workin' with Columbia Records some at that time. Big war started then, that stopped all the recording for a while. On account of they didn't have materials to make the records. They drafted me in the army in '41. Stayed in that about two years, three. Still had the guitar, though. Made more money then than ever. Around with the soldiers, they made good money, soldier in the army, penned up, worried about his gal, you can make plenty money then [playing blues]. I didn't go overseas. First stationed out in Macon, Georgia. Next they moved me to Arizona. That's where I got hurt in the army, trainin'. So I got out... the boys went thataway, overseas, and I come thisaway, home. Still had the guitar, though. I recorded here for [Regal]. They come here and recorded some more boys, and they told 'em about me, Blind Willie McTell and a fellow called Curley Weaver, they recorded them here. I came to Atlanta about '36, been in and out ever since.
Do you know, American blacks one of the only ones who can play the blues... You take them blacks overseas, different tribes, I don't know where they come from but they can't play no blues. I don't think they even much tried... [Elvis Presley], he the one that started [whites] in [blues]. He was pretty good, but the only thing he done was copy after us. He didn't make nothin' hisself. White boys now, they don't hardly make no blues. Mostly they copy after us. I don't know of any blues they made. They just can't do it. They can play it pretty good, but they can't sing it at all. They just ain't got the voice for that. In other words, that talent belongs to blacks. That gift is from God... Blacks, they done got just about like [whites] now, they can't hardly play it. That's some hard music to play and I don't think they got the patience like the old folks. Not many young blacks play it, very few. But when they do play it, they put it in the rock beat... White folks workin' on it, though. They tryin' so hard till they ain't ashamed of it a bit. As long as they in that shape, they might get it one day.