Watermelon Slim

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Artist Bio

William P. Homans III, (born 1949) professionally known as "Watermelon Slim", is an American blues musician. Homans was born in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, but was raised in Asheville, North Carolina, where he was first exposed to blues music from about the time he was five years old.

During childhood, he sang in choirs and glee clubs. Homans later explained that he first played music in 1958, on a set of bongo drums. A year later, he acquired a harmonica. It took almost a decade before he became sufficiently experienced to play his first professional show at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Homans has been performing since the 1970s and has been linked to several notable blues musicians, including John Lee Hooker, Robert Cray, Champion Jack Dupree, Bonnie Raitt, "Country" Joe McDonald, Charlie Musselwhite, and Henry Vestine of Canned Heat.

The first recording project to feature Homans was Merry Airbrakes, an album recorded and released on a small label in 1973, three years after he returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam. This album, on which he wrote all but two songs, has been described as "furiously anti-war." After his return home, Homans became involved with Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), and the album had songs with lyrics reflecting drug use, spiritual exploration, and involvement with the emotional cost of fighting "enemies." The album, originals of which are now highly collectible, has been re-released.

In Vietnam, he contracted an illness that put him in a Cam Ranh Bay military hospital. While convalescing, he started playing a Vietnamese guitar, made with balsa wood and rusty metal strings. He played it as a sort of Lap Steel guitar, using a Zippo cigarette lighter as a slide. Homans, strongly lefthanded, has always played right-handed guitars left-handed and backwards.

When he was transferred back to the U.S., where he was discharged, he was not allowed to bring his Vietnamese guitar along, so he bought a new American guitar shortly after his arrival and continued to develop this new skill. By 1979, he felt adrift in the Boston area and naively decided to move to Oklahoma, buy some land and earn a living as a farmer. He grew many different crops, from cantaloupes to artichokes, but the farm was never a financial success, merely a sideline. Homans later said that watermelons were the one crop on which he never lost money.

After Vietnam, Homans spent most of his adult life working for a living as a laborer (in particular a back-country sawmiller) and truck driver, just to make ends meet.

According to Oklahoma Magazine, while trying to be a farmer in Pushmataha County, Oklahoma, he first adopted the moniker "Watermelon Slim" in July of 1980, while standing in the middle of a field of watermelons he grew.

He never stopped playing music, and hooked up with some professional players in Oregon in 1984. This improved his skills and gave him confidence in his music abilities. Then, after earning his B.A. in History and Journalism in 1986, he went to Europe, intending to establish himself as a soloist. That attempt failed, and he returned to Boston and truck driving. By 1992, Homans was married, and had an infant daughter, Jessie. OTR (over-the-road) trucking, and being away from his family, did not pan out, so he returned to Oklahoma, where he lived until 2009, though separated from his wife and daughter since 2002 (daughter Jessie is now happily married in suburban Atlanta).

In 1998, Homans met two Oklahoma State University philosophy professors, Doren Recker and Mike Rhodes, with whom he started a band called "Fried Okra Jones". This band went through several changes in personnel, including the blues woman Honour Hero Havoc, bass player-- his late wife-- and guitarist "Texas" Ray Isom. With them in 1999, Homans recorded for the first time since 1973, an EP CD called Fried Okra Jones. In 2002, Homans made his first national release for Southern Records, Big Shoes to Fill, produced by his longtime musical colleague from Massachusetts, Chris Stovall Brown, with cousins Kyle and Adam Enevoldsen on drums and bass. A few months later, Homans had a serious heart attack, but bounced back quickly and continued to drive trucks, hauling industrial waste, and in 2003, used his work vacation time to make his first international tour, a solo journey through southern England.

In 2004, Homans left this last truck driving job to go on tour with his supporting band, "The Workers". In 2005, Homans was nominated for the W. C. Handy Award for "Best New Artist Debut", for his acoustic masterpiece CD, Up Close and Personal, produced by Chris Hardwick. He and his band were also nominated for six Blues Music Awards (the Blues Foundation had changed the name of its awards) in 2006, in a variety of categories, and for a Maple Blues Award from the Toronto Blues Society, for the 2006 album Watermelon Slim and the Workers. In early 2007, this album won in The 6th annual Independent Music Awards for Best Blues Album.

In 2007, Homans made the CD The Wheel Man, which was nominated for another six Blues Music Awards. At the awards ceremony in 2008, Homans and his band won the award for Best Blues Band of 2007, and The Wheel Man was awarded Best Blues CD of 2007. Besides that, Homans won the Maple Blues Award for B.B. King International Entertainer. The Wheel Man also was No. 1 Blues Album in England's Mojo Magazine blues CD poll for the secnd year in a row. Watermelon Slim and The Workers were also nominated for Blues Album of the year for The Wheel Man in the 7th annual Independent Music Awards.

In 2008, The Workers recorded their third CD for Toronto's NorthernBlues record label, No Paid Holidays. Homans was also inducted into the Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame at this time. In 2009, this CD was nominated for another four Blues Music Awards, for a total of seventeen awards from the Blues Foundation.

A few months later, Escape From the Chicken Coop, Homans' first country-and-western CD recorded in Nashville with Paul Franklin, Darrell Scott and other top Nashville session players, was released on NorthernBlues. His sequel Nashville record, again reflecting Homans' North Carolina Grand Ole Opry roots, was titled Ringers, and an acoustic duo CD, Okiesippi Blues, featuring Mississippi bluesman James "Super Chikan" Johnson came out in 2011.

On July 3, 1972, the huge music star Bonnie Raitt came to a VVAW protest against the war in Massachusetts, and with her band serenaded the veterans after the protest action. Both Raitt and Homans shared the same musical hero, Mississippi Fred McDowell, an established star who had actually been Raitt's teacher. In an incredible coincidence, and unknown to Homans until days later, McDowell, who had cancer, died the day that Raitt and Homans met.

In 2012, Raitt and Watermelon Slim, as well as the late Dick Waterman, who managed both Raitt and McDowell, attended the unveiling of a Mississippi Blues Trail marker honoring the late McDowell. Since then, Homans has made several pilgrimages to Fred McDowell's grave, west of McDowell's home in Como, Mississippi, and serenaded his mentor, acknowledging the debt he owed the man who started Watermelon Slim on the road to success.

Bill Homans is grateful for a full academic life with superior instructors and professors, starting with Lenox School for Boys, a boarding school in Lenox, MA. Fourteen years after earning his B.A. at the University of Oregon, he earned a Master of Arts degree in history from Oklahoma State University. After returning from Vietnam Homans became a fervent anti-war activist, and he remains a member and supporter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Watermelon Slim and the Workers called it quits in 2013 after recording a reunion album, Bull Goose Rooster, which Homans considers his most diverse album, containing blues, country, gospel, rock and folk numbers. In 2016, he traveled to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and recorded Golden Boy, but the CD, released by a French label, never was sold in North America. By 2019, his band was called The Truckers, and he made a CD called Church of the Blues, which reached number 7 in the US Billboard Blues Albums chart, as well as receiving a Blues Foundation nomination for Best Blues Album of that year.

In 2020, Watermelon Slim released a double live-performance CD, recorded in 2016 by longtime colleague Chris Hardwick at two Oklahoma music venues. Unfortunately, it never made the stores, because Covid-19 also came out in early 2020, and has done serious, lasting damage to the music industry, though Slim, dutifully receiving five vaccinations and boosters, has never caught the disease. The double CD, Traveling Man, has been his last CD release.

Since 2009, Slim has resided in Clarksdale, Mississippi, known worldwide as the Home of the Blues, and plays locally and regionally solo and with his band The Truckers. He is unsure if he will ever make another CD, since the industry has largely abandoned CD releases in favor of digital downloads and live-streaming.

At nearly 75 years old, he is proud of the working-class career he has enjoyed as a bluesman, for which he remains internationally respected.