by Jason Harper
A funny old blues dude named Watermelon Slim (real name Bob Homans) talked with Pitch contributor Saby Reyes-Kulkarni recently. We weren't able to run this in print due to all our astounding year-end wrap-up material, but it was too good not to at least run in pixels. Slim plays Knucklehead's on New Year's Eve with Rich Berry, Billy Ebeling and Lee McBee. Go here for details.
By Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Every now and again, a musician comes along for whom the word "character" seems specifically invented to describe -- Dr. John, Bootsy Collins, Moondog, Leon Redbone...the list goes on. Not only can Oklahoma-based blues guitarist Watermelon Slim hold his own on that list, he may very well rival those who are routinely mentioned at the top.
To cover Slim's much-publicized background would take too long and take the spotlight away from the man himself. Vietnam and Iraq war protester, academic, teacher, blues historian, environmental activist, watermelon farmer, heart-attack survivor, and a longtime trucker who put in his two weeks with the trucking company only recently, Slim is one of the few modern blues artists out there whose albums sizzle with heat and passion.
The Pitch recently came across the good fortune of having Slim wax poetic on a number of topics. Suffice it to say the man has a ramblin' man's way with words and doesn't hold back. Without further ado, a necessarily streamlined transcript of our conversation follows...
You've been active with Vietnam Veterans Against the War since returning from the war. How much hostility have you faced -- both then and now -- for your anti-war views?
Then, of course, the country was extremely polarized. There were some that cheered us on and some that told us to take a long walk off a short pier. I don't get any flack about being anti-war at this point. The only hostility once in a while that still exists -- 'cuz it still reverberates through society -- is, more often than not, from fellow veterans of the Vietnam war that thought we should have one. The fellas that say, "Well, if the politicians hadn't tied our hands, we could have blown the shit out of them and won the war." Of course I have to ask, what would winning the war mean? "Well, we would have stopped communism." Yeah, and we would have also turned the place into a freaking oil refinery.
As a one-time advisor to John Kerry, what was your reaction to seeing him get savaged in his presidential run by the Swift Boat Veterans'?
John Kerry lost his cojones -- that's the Spanish word for "balls."
Yeah, I know.
Had he listened to the VVAWs [Vietnam Veterans Against the War] who were attempting to advise him to stand up to the Swift-Boaters and tell them, "You're a bunch of goddamn liars and you're disgraces and you're being paid millions of dollars to do this." He wouldn't stand up to 'em.
The other thing that really makes my neck red was those damn people who were putting purple band-aids on themselves at the Republican National Convention. If he'd heard about that and dropped whatever he was doing, gone to the Convention hall, and ripped some purple band-aids off some smug Republican faces and turned over a few tables, just like Jesus, John Kerry would be president today. I don't know if he'd have done any better. It wasn't much of a choice. John Kerry had become a conservative Democratic war hawk, rather than the VVAW that he once was. I'd rather not even get started on John Kerry. John Kerry and I are no longer friends. The guy that John Kerry talked to to resign from the VVAW to disavow all of our efforts was me.
For your master's thesis, you investigated "un-followed and suppressed leads in the Oklahoma City bombing case." What did you discover?
The Neo-Nazis that conspired with Timothy McVeigh are still running free in Eastern Oklahoma. They're armed to the teeth with tons of explosives and heavy weapons and they're waiting for another excuse to attack the government -- right this minute.
You've survived a heart attack--
I can bear a heart attack. If that's all the pain it is, I can bear that — however, I'll make one caveat: I certainly hope that if I have another one and happen to be driving while I'm doing it, I've always thought, "dammit, I'm gonna know that that's it," but I'm going to have the professionalism to control my vehicle and get it off the road as I'm dying.
How much do truckers keep that in mind?
I'd say, if they haven't had a heart attack or a stroke, probably not very much at all. But lemme qualify that: you're always knowing that everybody on the road is out there depending on you. You're not only a leader, you're also the most dangerous thing out on the road if you're not taking care of yourself. You're always thinking that if so-and-so up there ahead screws up major and runs off the road and hits the tree or jumps the median and head-on's somebody, you're the one that's going to pull the rig over and respond first. First you call the State Police on Channel 9, but then you're the one that jumps out. You're the knight of the road. And some poeple are pretty obscene, profane knights, I must say, but somewhere in the mind of every truck driver is the thought of what you must do in the case of a true emergency.
You got a late start professionally, but have been at music for a while. What else would you like to accomplish?
I will, at some point in the next couple of years, record the next great shit-kicking, country n' western truck-stop album. And I will do it in memory of the greatest exponent of truck-driving music in American musical history, the late Dave Dudley. [starts to sing Well, I rolled out of Pittsburgh / rollin' down that Eastern seaboard...]