“Possum got the second oldest electric guitar ever made. The Devil got the first!”
The 2007 musical drama Honeydripper, written & directed by John Sayles, takes place in 1950 in Harmony AL. It’s the story of Tyrone “Pine Top” Purvis, played wonderfully by Danny Glover, and his Honeydripper Lounge – a live blues club in big financial trouble. Many of Harmony’s younger residents work as cotton pickers and hang out at the club next to Honeydripper, Toussaint’s Ace of Spades. It has a new juke box & a craps table, but no live music. In the film’s opening sequence, local blues legend Bertha Mae is performing for just a few people at Honeydripper while Toussaint’s is jumping. Bertha Mae is played by Mable John who, in 1959, became the first woman signed by Barry Gordy. Gordy, whose mother’s name was perhaps not coincidentally Bertha, founded Motown Records a year later.
Pine Top is willing to try anything to save the club. He tells his best friend Maceo (Charles S. Dutton) that he plans to hire Guitar Sam, the biggest act in New Orleans, for the upcoming weekend. Meanwhile, a young guitarist named Sonny (Gary Clark. Jr.) arrives in Harmony. The next morning he meets the ubiquitous blind guitarist, Possum, characterized fantastically by 3 time GRAMMY winner Keb’ Mo’. A couple other noteworthy performances in Honeydripper: Stacy Keach plays racist Sheriff Pugh; and YaYa DaCosta is China Doll, Pine Top’s stepdaughter & Sonny’s love interest.
The music in Honeydripper is excellent! There’s a great vamp of the folk song Stagger Lee by Keb’ Mo’ – the song was first recorded by Herb Wiedoeft’s Cinderella Roof Orchestra in 1924, made famous by Lloyd Price in ’59, and became an underground legend in 1978 when the Grateful Dead muddied the waters with their rewrite of it. Gary Clark, Jr. leads an a cappella version of the folk song Midnight Special, the most popular versions of which are by Lead Belly in ‘34 & Creedence Clearwater Revival in ’69. And when a liquor delivery truck pulls up to Honeydripper, you can hear Hank Williams’ Move It On Over playing on its radio. That site is less than 50 yards from Hank Williams’s home in Greenville AL when he was 11.
Honeydripper is an enjoyable motion picture with good acting & great music. While it is a bit predictable, it’s worth a watch for the music alone. 3 Stars!