Honeydripper - John Sayles Interview

John Sayles

Axe grinder

Legendary writer and director John Sayles tells of the inspiration for his new film Honeydripper

‘Some of the plot of Honeydripper comes from this rock’n’roll legend called Guitar Slim who was a New Orleans guitar player in the early 1950s. He had a huge hit with a song called ‘The Things That I Used to Do’ which was arranged by Ray Charles when he was 18 years-old. In those days there was no rock videos or TV or even album covers so Guitar Slim was only known by face in the Orleans area. He was famous for two things: one was missing his gigs because he partied too hard and he wouldn’t show up and two, he would go out, with a very long extension cord, on to the streets and up to the doors of other clubs and do this pied piper thing and bring people back in to the club with him.’

‘Some of what I wanted this film to be about can be found in the lyrics of ‘Music Keeps Rollin’ On’, the final song in the film, which I wrote the words for. Here’s Tyrone, this bankrupt bar owner and musician played by Danny Glover who is 50 in 1950. He grew up with the music, he was a kid when the blues started, he was there in Orleans for the ‘King’ Buddy Bolden jazz period, he was around for the Ma Rainey period in the 1930s, he was there for swing in the 1940s and now he is playing rhythm and blues. But can he make that next step? Can he move with the music? Which is going to move on without him whether he is ready to play it or not.’

‘I read a lot of musician biographies as research for this film and I tracked down a jukebox play list from Mississippi in 1950, which was just incredible. There was such a broad mix stuff on there, everything from blues and gospel to country and rockabilly.’

‘Ultimately I think Honeydripper is about a community rather than any one hero. Although you’ve got to get to know the protagonist I make sure that you also have to spend time with the other characters, because you need to understand what he’s going to lose. Tyrone is this African American guy in 1950s Alabama who lies, cheats and even steals from his daughter who has a heart condition [laughs] but you still end up rooting for him because everyone in the community wants to be like him because he is his own boss.’

Honeydripper is on selected release from Fri 16 May.


  • 4 stars
  • 2007
  • US
  • 2h 2min
  • PG
  • Directed by: John Sayles
  • Written by: John Sayles
  • Cast: Danny Glover, Keb' Mo', Mable John, Kel Mitchell

It's 1950 in rural Alabama and morally circumspect pianist Tyrone Purvis (Glover) is trying to save the Honeydripper lounge from bankruptcy and his ass from prison. Although this benign and jolly tale is too long and features too many characters, Sayles' ability to spin a good yarn remains undiminished, irreproachable…