He was born Bill Homans, but professionally he is known as "Watermelon Slim."
A blues musician, Slim sings and plays both guitar and harmonica. With his band, The Workers, he'll perform Sept. 26 as the headliner of Blues on the Green during the Savannah Jazz Festival.
Currently signed to NorthernBlues Music, Slim has been performing since the 1970s. He has worked with such notables as John Lee Hooker, Robert Cray, Champion Jack Dupree, Bonnie Raitt, "Country" Joe McDonald and Henry Vestine of Canned Heat.
"I was actually born in Boston," Slim says. "My parents went to Arlington, Va., but divorced by the time I was 3, so I grew up in Asheville, N.C."
Slim was exposed to music early in life.
"What my mother didn't expose me to, the black women who were at least as much as responsible for raising me did," he says.
"I first heard the blues at age 5. Beulah Huggins worked for my mother and her second husband as what used to be called a maid.
"When she was cooking and cleaning and taking care of me and my little brother, she'd be singing John Lee Hooker and improvising on blues songs," Slim says. "Nearly 60 years later, I can still hear her."
At the age of 7, Slim started going to church, which exposed him to more music.
"My mother was not a religious person," he says. "She said, 'You can go to church if want to, but if you go, you should stick with it.' I walked into the Episcopal Church, the closest church to our house.
"Not only could I sing everything that the priest was singing, I realized that I could sing harmonies, too," Slim says. "At that point, I knew I was a singer of some sort."
Asheville was a major music scene even then.
"I was able to see and hear some amazing music," Slim says. "The Ukrainian National Choir had wrangled its way out of the Soviet Union in the Khrushchev era and was touring. They came to the Asheville City Auditorium and it was a musical experience that had a certain influence on my own vocal work.
"It was all done back in the old days when people didn't use microphones all the time," he says. "The Asheville City Auditorium probably holds 800 or 900 people. These Ukrainian men were singing mostly in Ukrainian and filled the entire thing with the projected sound they did."
The most impressive performer of the group was the basso profundo.
"He sang a deep bass from way down," Slim says. "That is one of the things I practice."
Country music was also popular.
"Asheville was always a countercultural crossroads," Slim says. "Nowadays, it's more commercially that way.
"I got the chance to go hear Flatt and Scruggs. I saw Johnny Cash recite 'Big John.' I got to do a lot of things musically there."
For decades, Slim has done vocal exercises to deepen his range.
"My range is never going to get any higher," he says. "It's fun."
Although he sang early and taught himself bongos and harmonica, Slim didn't pick up a guitar until he was 20 and recovering from an illness while serving in Vietnam.
"I was walking around and found a little commissary," he says. "Sitting in the corner of this little shack was an old guitar. There was no finish on it and it was the rattiest looking guitar I ever saw.
"It had six strings and cost $5," Slim says. "I took this guitar and got back to my hospital quarters and started learning to play with a Zippo cigarette lighter for a slide."
Although he'd never had instrumental lessons, Slim taught himself.
"I learned to play right-hand guitar and upside down," he says. "After I was back from Vietnam in 1971 or '72, I met an operatic vocal teacher in Boston who showed me the three-part breathing exercises I still do now."
Slim returned from Vietnam a fervent anti-war activist, and today he remains a member and supporter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. After his return, he recorded an album, "Merry Airbrakes," in 1973.
It would be 26 years before he would record again.
"I was never talented enough as a musician, nor was I willing to be a capitalist," Slim says. "I have been a radical activist all my life. I can't be a wage slave, I'm too old. I left that behind at 55. But I'm not entirely at ease with being an entrepreneur."
Instead of becoming a music star, Slim worked at farming and trucking over the years. But he decided to give recording one more shot in 1999, just to see if he could.
"It was a gamble," Slim says. "I had one more chance to do something in music or I would have to acknowledge I spent all those years chasing a dream.
"I'm not a great musician," he says. "I know 10 more harmonica players in Boston who are better than I am. I'm above average at this point."
But Slim has done very well, recording several albums and making a name for himself. And about that name ...
After Slim left Boston, he moved to Oklahoma and started farming, where he got his blues moniker.
"There used to be a cliche about hippies moving back to the land," he says. "One day I was standing in the middle of a watermelon patch I'd grown by the sweat of my brow. It's 105 degrees in the shade because 1980 was a record-breaking year, the very hottest year since the Dust Bowl.
"I was looking at this piece of watermelon I was eating, reached in my pocket and pulled out a harmonica," Slim says. "I looked at the harmonica and looked at the piece of watermelon and realized, 'I've got a blues name.'"
He's never gone back.
"Like Paul on the Damascus road, I realized that there may be a lot of Slims out there, but there's almost no chance of anybody who's named himself Watermelon Slim," he says.
In Savannah, Slim will play a variety of music, including songs from his latest album, "Bull Goose Rooster."
"It's the deepest and broadest record I've ever played," he says. "I won't play jazz or country or black gospel or what we would call folk music.
"I'll be doing one or two numbers that some people would call Chicago blues, and I'll do some ballads. I have a set list and I tend to run off the set list sometimes.
"I'm moving toward doing just playing where I want to, with whom I want to," Slim says. "I've given my notice to the business combine I've been working with. As of the end of October, I am completely independent and will be booking myself."
Not that Slim expects things to change much.
"I'm very grateful for all the support I've been given," he says.
"I'm an international artist, but I'm a minor league artist. Back before there was anything like the blues music awards, the award for a blues man was that after a gig, he had a pocket full of change and bills and got a place to stay out of wind and rain, and most importantly, had another gig in the offing.
"At this point in my life, I can sit down anywhere I want to and put my hat out there and go," Slim says. "That's a blessing. I'm 65 next year, and the older I get, the more I'm counting the blessings. I've got a life and it's going very well."