From CB to 13th CD
Watermelon Slim, a former truck driver, releases ‘Church of the Blues.’
After spending more than 10 years as a truck driver, Bill “Watermelon Slim” Homans turned in his keys in 2004 with the hope of becoming a full-time blues musician.
Hauling for a company out of Stillwater, Okla., Slim knew he needed to start playing more shows if he was going to become anything more than a “weekend warrior.”
“I told my truck driving boss that I had a few gigs in August to play,” Slim said. “That’s as far as I got. He said, ‘you can play or drive.’ So I gave him two weeks’ notice. It worked out from there. It was touch and go for the first year, but by 2005 I was actually working and making my living as a musician.”
It’s safe to say it’s worked out. Since then, Watermelon Slim has been nominated for 17 Blues Music Awards, earning wins for Album of the Year and Band of the Year in 2008. Earlier this year, Slim released his 13th album, “Church of the Blues.” This summer, he will be on tour in the United Kingdom, Belgium and France.
Still, the now 69-year-old Slim never gets too comfortable.
“If it all went south, I could drive team with a friend of mine who drives for Landstar,” he said. “But we’re trying to avoid that.”
Wearing many hats throughout his life, Slim never shied away from hard work.
He’s worked on a farm, at a sawmill, as a lumper, a forklift operator, a furniture mover, and as a hard laborer. While working at the sawmill, Slim lost part of his finger.
“The music came from the work,” he said. “I could work just as hard as anybody you ever saw.”
Slim also served in Vietnam, competed in fencing in college, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and worked briefly as a newspaper reporter.
“I hated working at the newspaper,” Slim said. “I’m a loud and opinionated and – some people say – sweaty and smelly person, and I don’t do well in offices.”
In 1987, he began working as a truck driver. Outside of attending Oklahoma State for his master’s degree from 1997-2000, Slim drove over the rode until 2004.
“I was trying to reinvent myself as a teacher,” Slim said of his master’s degree. “But I don’t do well in offices, and I don’t do well around people. It was evident that school teaching was going to be very much different than what school was like when I attended. Five days after I got my degree, I was back in a truck.”
Working as a truck driver gave Slim inspiration for many of his songs and allowed him to sing as he traveled down the highway.
“I would sing to kill the boredom,” he said. “Every once in a while, I would get on the CB radio. Sometimes it would be, ‘Damn, driver. Do you got any more?’ Once in a while, it would be, ‘Shut up, stupid.’”
Of course, his CB handle was “Watermelon.”
Slim said that while he doesn’t miss having to deal with strict hours-of-service regulations, trucking provided him the inspiration for his 2009 album “Escape from the Chicken Coop.” The album cover features Slim sitting in the cab of a truck and talking into a CB radio.
“I wrote the truck driving record of the 21st century,” he said. “I can’t tell you that there’s another record of truck driving country music that’s any better than that record.”
The album includes such trucking-themed tunes as “Wreck on the Highway,” “300 Miles,” “Truck Drivin’ Songs,” and “18, 18 Wheeler.”
Slim’s latest album includes originals and covers from such blues legends as Muddy Waters. Slim delivers his signature gritty and bluesy vocals while featuring his play of the slide guitar and harmonica.
Some of the featured tunes on “Church of Blues” include “Post Modern Blues,” “Get Out My Life Woman,” and “Too Much Alcohol.”
“Tax Man Blues” is a throwback to his days as a truck driver and laborer.
I got a job in the factory, because my bills were coming due
But when I saw my paycheck, I felt just like a fool
I can’t believe what the tax man has done to me
Because the money I’ve been making just ain’t the money that I see
“Church of the Blues” reached as high as No. 7 on the U.S. Billboard Blues Albums chart for the week of Feb. 9.
Despite all of the success, however, Slim said he continues to perform every show like it’s his last.
“If I’m ever on stage and it doesn’t feel like it’s the last time I’m going to be on stage, then it’s going to be my last time on stage,” he said. “I have to feel that sense of urgency.
“Every blues man that I’ve talked to sings about these three things – work, relationships with the opposite sex, and mortality. Eventually, we all end up in the same place. Nobody gets out of these blues alive.”
From trucker to singer
It is not uncommon for musicians to work as truck drivers while they perform at gigs on the weekends and wait to be discovered. Here are a few notable singers who spent some time in the cab of a truck.
Not only was the “King of Rock and Roll” once a truck driver, but after an audition Presley was told to “stick to driving a truck, because you’ll never make it as a singer.”
According to Snopes.com, the foolish statement was actually uttered. The story goes that Presley took a truck driving job with Crown Electric for $40 per week in April 1954. A month later, Presley was turned down for an audition to sing in a band.
Despite the advice, Presley’s truck driving career didn’t last long. In July 1954, he recorded “That’s All Right, Mama.” And in 1956, he released his first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel,” which became a No. 1 hit.
This popular country singer drove a Pepsi truck before his songs made it to the radio.
“I was the guy that rode around in a truck and delivered drinks to all the convenience stores, so this was kind of my backup plan,” Aldean told Taste of Country in a 2012 article.
Aldean has released eight albums and 24 singles. His 2010 album, “My Kinda Party,” went quadruple-platinum.
Tippin still holds his CDL and is a life member of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
The country singer gained a recording contract with RCA Nashville in 1990. Some of his most popular songs include “Kiss This,” “That’s As Close as I’ll Get to Loving You,” and “Working Man’s Ph.D.”
In 2009, he released the album, “In Overdrive,” which is dedicated to truck drivers.
A truck driver for more than 25 years, Platt became the lead singer for the popular rock band Kansas.
Platt, who performed in numerous cover bands, took over for the retired Steve Walsh in 2014. Kansas, which is known for such hits as “Dust in the Wind” and “Carry On My Wayward Son,” continues to tour. This summer, Platt and his bandmates are scheduled to perform in concerts across the country. LL