Bill "Watermelon Slim" Homans is no stranger to hard work, and arguably has labored as hard in the past three years as anyone else playing the blues.
But based on his doctor's instructions and with some regret, he said recently he will be limiting the number of his live performances in 2009.
"I've played more than 500 gigs in the past three years, and the doctor has said, 'Slim, your long-distance days are basically over. Your knees and your hips are bone-on-bone,'" Homans said. "All my years of driving trucks are certainly a contributing factor, and I suppose also there's some heredity in it.
"I figure like this: I've got to take a fairly radical sabbatical — if I want to be playing by the time I'm 70, I've got to take some kind of a rest while I'm here at 60."
Homans recorded his first, now long-out-of-print album in 1973, before spending years gigging off and on in the United States and Europe, while also working as a long-distance trucker. He also worked as a watermelon farmer in Central Oklahoma — the source of his nickname. But it wasn't until 2002 — when he had an epiphany about his commitment to music in the wake of a heart attack — that his career as a professional musician took off.
The passionate intensity of his performances, both solo and with a band, brought him considerable attention quickly from both fellow musicians and the public, netting the performer a total of 17 Blues Music Award nominations for him, his band and his albums since 2005, and four more nominations pending for 2009. In 2008, Homans and his band, The Workers, received Blues Music Awards for Album of the Year and Band of the Year. In 2007, Homans also received the B.B. King International Entertainer Award, one of the Maple Blues Awards presented by the Toronto Blues Society.
Homans said that in his upcoming solo shows Saturday at The Blue Door and Sunday at Norman's Performing Arts Studio, and on a new album set for release next month, fans may find a distinct shift in the nature of the music he will be playing.
"I play some outright country music," he said. "I've got the blues running through every darned thing I do. When I do a solo show, I'm playing flat-out, shit-kicking country half the time, because that's something else that I know and I know there's a heck of a lot of identification with that in my audiences.
"I haven't seen Oklahoma a lot recently, and I'm glad to be getting back there."
Homans said his new album will be dedicated to Dave Dudley, who sang "Six Days on the Road" " one of the great on-the-road trucker country songs, according to Homans.
Homan refers to his interest in different musical genres as "wearing different hats," and said his appreciation for country and western music dates back to his childhood.
"I haven't let on that I've worn the country music hat as much as the blues hat, but I grew up in Asheville, N.C., which I think of as Grand Ole Opry Central country," he said. "I love playing country music and I will be playing some of my new songs at the gigs coming up in the Oklahoma City area."
SELECTED BLUES FESTIVALS
While nothing has been finalized, Homans said his present plans for 2009 include two possible tours of Australia: one with The Workers, and one playing solo or duo gigs with blues guitarist Fiona Boyes. And despite the planned restriction of his time on the road, he said American audiences will still be able to find him playing selected blues festivals and club dates, including some gigs with a full band.
"I'm going to be picking my spots strategically for solo and duo gigs, he said. "People can expect me to be playing at least occasionally with James Johnson, otherwise known as Super Chikan, and also with Fiona Boyes, and whatever band gigs we get."
But being off the road does not mean Homans will be idle: He'll be tackling the art world next.
"I'm as excited about the art I'm going to be producing the next couple of years, as I am about anything musically," he said. "I have a studio at my disposal and I'm going to be doing some major works that are going to be mixed media (with) casting and oil painting mixed in a way that nobody's mixing them right now. It's going to be big pieces " outdoor installations " and it's going to include the work I've already been doing in oil."