Winners of Us All
“I have lived the blues life!” he declares, proud as a dog with two tails. “I have had the shit kicked out of me. My wife took everything I had and stole everything I had borrowed and put it all into cocaine and methamphetamine. She was raped by two meth heads and wouldn’t even let me take them out of the world. That’s the blues.” — Watermelon Slim
Watermelon Slim - just Slim to his friends — is in Shankerman’s Men’s Wear in his adopted hometown of Clarksdale Mississippi, home of the Crossroads and capital city of Delta Blues. He’s choosing fabric for a couple of his trademark suits. You’d never know from his easy grace how unlikely it is that he’d be here at all, or the tortured route he took to arrive. This is a story of how circumstance and choice can take a life and batter it virtually to destruction and despair, and of the power of music — of the Blues — to redeem it.
William P. Homans III is the son of New England Brahmins, the kind who put Roman numerals after their names. His father William Jr., was an eminent civil-liberties attorney from Boston, with roots back to the War of Independence. On his mother’s side, he was descended from the most important family of abolitionists fighting against slavery before the Civil War, the Beechers. It was those patriotic roots that took young Bill to Vietnam. It was Vietnam that tore him away from those roots. He came back to help found Vietnam Vets Against the War. He also came back playing left-handed slide guitar which he’d taught himself to play backwards, with a Zippo lighter for a bottleneck, and a growing fondness for the music of the downtrodden. He even made a record in 1973, Merry Airbrakes. But he wasn’t Watermelon Slim, not yet. The record fizzled. In the 1970s and 80s he banged from job to job, was married for the first time, and divorced. He enjoyed philosophy and he joined Mensa. In 1986 he got a bachelors’ degree in history and journalism. After trying to establish himself as a musician in Europe, but failing, Homans—by now sporting the nickname he goes by today-- got himself a reporting job on a small Massachusetts daily. Then, working at his first, and last, office job, he found out he couldn’t abide ... assholes. And his boss was an asshole. “I’m a little bit more inclined (than most people) to tell somebody to go fuck yourself. Eventually, I had to tell him to go fuck himself. In no uncertain terms. I never had another journalism job.” - Watermelon Slim
He tried marriage again, and but for having one beautiful daughter who has now survived the dysfunctionality of her parents’ marriage, that 30-year marriage was a more enduring failure. After going to graduate school and earning his masters’ degree in history, he attempted to enter the school-teaching profession, but he ran into another problem — he by this time had no teeth. A ferocious mugging had left him with so much ironwork in his face that his mouth can’t hold dentures. And teachers, it turns out, need teeth. “I do not fit the parameters of an American white-collar, middle- class professional in a job in which public relations is the primary factor,” he says bitterly — and a little bit proudly. Thus, from Vietnam service to the day Watermelon Slim quit his last trucking job and took one more try at a professional musical career, his life was 30 years of personal and career drifting, mostly down. The marriage — well that quote says it all. Slim drove trucks, he worked construction, he even grew and picked watermelons, but about all he had to show for that was his catchy nickname. Two things separated him from your average bottom-runger: he could never stop thinking, reflecting and philosophizing; and he played the blues. With more and more conviction he played the blues. He played them with some other guys—including two Oklahoma State University professors-- and on weekends they called themselves “Fried Okra Jones,” mostly playing in bars. Then they went back to their day jobs. Until 2002. That’s when he met Chris Hardwick, a music producer, promoter and, for Slim — ‘cause now he was Slim — a lifesaver. He recorded Fried Okra Jones and two more CDs, and that led to signing with a Canadian label — Northern Blues. And that led to a career he’d spent a lifetime heading for. At fifty-something, he had finally arrived. We watch Slim now — we’ve been hearing his music throughout — as he creates, collaborates and records. He’s gotten to know folks like Dan Ackroyd and Bonnie Raitt and other droppable names and we’ll hear from them too — a bit. But mostly we’ll see, hear and philosophize with Slim — his motivation, his continuing challenges and his opinions — boy, does he have opinions. They are personal and social. He knows inside and out the world of the working poor, and that world is just getting harder and nastier. This is a story about life, luck, mortality and sticking it to the man. Winners of Us All is also a story about following your passion, no matter what the cost, and as he enters his 70’s he’s also looking for love. He is finally able to acknowledge that living on his own for all these years can get lonely, his dog is a loyal companion but he needs more in his twilight years. Watermelon Slim has a classic American tale to tell, he has lived a full life as a songwriter, a working-class hero, a social revolutionary, a snappy dresser, a riveting performer... and a Bluesman with a twist.