As far as playing the Blues is concerned, Eddie Haywood was a late bloomer. But whatever he may have lacked in direct, hands-on early experience, he made up for in philosophy and style.

Born in Inverness, Mississippi, the son of a farmer with five brothers and sisters, Haywood’s childhood in the late 1930s and early 1940s consisted largely of plowing fields and picking cotton. Having had enough of that, as a young man, he uprooted himself and his young wife for a job in Flint, Michigan, where he got his first dose of the Blues. “When we busted up,” Haywood, 71, says, “that’s about the time I started messin’ around with the Blues.

“I never could get my fingers to work right to play guitar, but I started singin’ when my marriage was gettin’ messed around and then I got real tight on harmonica,” he explains. As far as he can remember, he was at least 25, if not older, when he started performing for audiences with The Rockin’ Rambles.

A move to Kansas City in the late 1950s tightened him up even more when he hooked up with Rice Miller, better known to the rest of the world as Sonny Boy Williamson. He went on to work with Little Walter Jacobs, “Master of the Telecaster” Albert Collins and Odell Wright.

Although Haywood is a humble and gracious performer, he knew he was doing something right. He headed to Chicago, where he met the man he most admired, Muddy Waters. His Chicago stay also found him backing the “Hoochie Coochie” man Willie Dixon, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy and his other favorite Bluesman, B.B. King.

Traveling and playing music is all well and good, and Haywood has lots of stories and memories about life on the road, but the fact of the matter is, it’s pretty difficult to make a living off the Blues. In the mid-1970s, Haywood settled into a “day job” in the Quad Cities and continued to play at local musical venues. By the mid-1980s, bands from Rock Island to Des Moines knew of Haywood’s talents and decided Eddie wasn’t exactly a fitting name. Henceforth, the master manipulator of the M. Hohner became known as Harmonica Slim.

At one time, Haywood was known for his spirited stage shows. Wailing on his harp, the Blues would literally bring him to his knees, onto his back, rolling around on stage. Although Haywood continues to play as often as he can, at 71, there’s a little less legwork involved.

Currently, Haywood is billed with Tom Norman and the Pena Brothers as Harmonica Slim & His Steady Rollin’ Blues Band. And it’s enough for him to just get up on stage and revel in everyone else’s good time.

“Most everywhere you go in the world, people like the Blues,” he says from his apartment in Rock Island. “Whether you got problems at home, at your job…sometimes even babies gots the Blues. I don’t know, I just do what I do and I go wherever I can to make a little bitta money, and it just seems that people like what I do.”

Concerning his induction into the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame, Haywood says, “Ah, Iowa is full of the Blues, and I’m glad to be part of it.”

– Sarah Hankel

As published in the Des Moines CityView · 1/16/2002
www.dmcityview.com – reprinted with permission