The Godfather (of Blues), Part II
Beloved bluesman Frank Edwards — respectfully and lovingly known as "Mr. Frank" to blues aficionados all over the world — would have been 95 years old this week. Though the godfather of Atlanta's blues world passed on to the great gig in the sky two years ago, his life, music and wisdom continue to be celebrated at Northside Tavern.
"It started out as a yearly birthday party when he was alive," says fellow musician Mudcat (nee Danny Dudeck). "Now it's a community event."
Known as the Chicken Raid in honor of one of Mr. Frank's best-known songs, the Mr. Frank birthday jam has expanded into a massive two-day bash. The 1 p.m.-3 a.m. fundraiser benefits the Music Maker Relief Foundation (www.musicmaker.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding often-overlooked Southern musicians gain national recognition and funding their survival.
The charity's mission is the same as Mr. Frank's, says Mudcat. "They simply give back to the roots of American music."
A screening of the documentary Living the Blues — a Music Maker-sponsored project by Spike Lee associate Larry Banks — will precede the live music, playing at 1 p.m. both afternoons. Fittingly, the film includes a performance of "Chicken Raid" by Mr. Frank, aided by the legendary Taj Mahal, taped several years ago at Northside Tavern.
"The local music community has deep respect for Frank, and also for Mudcat," says Bryan Powell, frontman for local blues group Rough Draft and a longtime CL contributor. "Virtually all of the local blues players want to take part in this show, playing for free. Last year, the bands literally played until sunrise."
Powell adds that the event is a let-it-all-hang-out party. "It's a family get-together for the local blues community, much to the benefit of the audience."
All of the local performers have direct ties to Mr. Frank, says Mudcat. "Really, we could have expanded this to a weeklong event and still had people wanting a slot to play."
For its second anniversary, Chicken Raid has expanded and upgraded. Canadian blues siren Sue Foley and Alabama-based musician and activist Willie King headline the affair. A $25 entrance fee includes a copy of the posthumously released Chicken Raid collection, featuring a selection of music from the early years of Mr. Frank's career, along with some of the last music he recorded. "It's got a little of everything," says Mudcat. "It's a good way to get to know him."
Of course, nearly everyone in the Atlanta blues community knew Mr. Frank. Powell authored the album's liner notes and Jim Ransone of the Breeze Kings is in charge of his official website, www.mrfrankedwards.com.
Born in Washington, Ga., Mr. Frank celebrated his 93rd birthday March 22, 2002, at Northside Tavern, performing with Ransone and Dave Roth on second guitar and bass, and Evan Lee on drums. Video highlights of that show will be projected onto the club's walls as the party unfolds. "People will be able to look up and see Mr. Frank playing," says Mudcat. "He loved to support the local scene, and now he's still watching over us."
Powell remembers the statesman's wisdom and guidance fondly: "Frank was so soft-spoken that some people didn't realize how mentally sharp he was. You'd tell him a story and he'd take it all in so placidly that you'd wonder if he understood or even heard you. Then he'd answer, and you'd realize that not only did he get it, but he also had a lifetime of experiences that you could scarcely imagine, giving him an insight that you might never achieve."
"He represented the true spirit of the blues," says Mudcat. "It's all about giving it back — to the scene, to other people, just to everyone. Even though Mr. Frank is gone, he's still givin'." -- Lee Valentine Smith
The second annual Chicken Raid is Sat.-Sun., March 20-21 at Northside Tavern. $25 each day.