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Concerts: With Delta blues, Watermelon Slim keeps on truckin'

By Jack Hill

This article was published June 15, 2007 at 5:41 a.m.

— Watermelon Slim had dabbled in music during the years when he made a living as a longhaul truck driver, but when he underwent heart surgery, his thoughts turned to how, if he recovered, he would spend the remaining life he had pursuing his dreams.

Born Bill Homans, he had learned guitar in an earlier hospital stint, while laid up with wounds he sustained in the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

"I wasn't a particularly good soldier," Slim confesses, "I enlisted, volunteered for Vietnam, did my time and got out. My service was nondescript, my work record was satisfactory, but not my conduct. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I was a 'stoner.' But I did learn to play guitar during my time there."

After the war, Slim exhibited a talent for academics and earned two bachelor's degrees, in journalism and history, at the University of Oregon. He later got a master's degree in history at Oklahoma State University and qualified for Mensa, the organization for genius-level IQs, which he pooh-poohs.

"That was in the 1970s, when I was told I had an IQ of 142," he says, "but the last time I had myself tested, while I was in graduate school, it had dropped to 114. That was 10 years ago."

Slim's musical style has its origins in the sounds associated with the Mississippi Delta. Born in Boston but raised in North Carolina, he first heard the blues when he was a 5-year-old. He now plays a National Steel guitar left-handed, usually lapstyle with a slide.

He also sings and plays harmonica. Besides his truck-driving work, he also did sawmill work and wrote for a newspaper. He memorialized his journalism days in "Newspaper Reporter," a song on his latest CD, The Wheel Man, released earlier this year.

He began his recording career full time in 2003, with Big Shoes to Fill. He followed that with Up Close & Personal in 2004, then recruited a band and signed a deal with a Toronto label, Northern Blues, which released his CDs Watermelon Slim & The Workers in 2006 and The Wheel Man.

"It was years before I had the concrete incentive to start playing for my living," he says, "and every time I tried to play for my living, I always seemed to fall on my face. In fact, you can see the scars on my face where I fell."

His Workers are Michael Newberry on drums and backing vocals, Ronnie "Mac" Mc-Mullen on electric guitar and backing vocals and Cliff Belcher on bass and backing vocals.

An exciting life on the road beckons to Slim, who has designed and ordered a new Freightliner truck, due to be delivered in August.

"I endorse and drive Freightliners and I'm getting a small transcontinental moving van as my work vehicle, or retirement vehicle perhaps. It will have all the accommodations for its riders."

Slim now lives in Oklahoma City, which he chose after bailing out of Boston and traveling around the country for a year looking for just the right place to live.

"I was looking for a place where land was cheap and quite far from civilization," he explains. "I got a piece of backcountry land there and have been there since 1979. Beforehitting the road with diligence, Slim considered himself a master of the bowling ball.

"I don't get to bowl much anymore," he says ruefully. "I had a 190 average, and I'm still looking for my first 300 game. I have rolled 299, and if I ever roll 300, it will be the last ball I ever roll."WATERMELON SLIM & THE WORKERS

9 p.m. today, Cajun's Wharf,

2400 Cantrell Road, Little

Rock

Admission: $5

(501) 375-5351

Weekend, Pages 71 on 06/15/2007

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