Monday, October 15, 2007
L'il Ed and the Blues Imperials at Bill's Blues Bar (Evanston IL) , 10/13/07
L'il Ed Williams and his terrific band, the Blues Imperials, hit Evanston Illinois on Friday night, October 13. This past weekend was the fourth anniversary celebration of Bill's Blues, and what a tough road it has been for this wonderful club. In this era of DJ's, iPods and free downloads, it is not easy to keep a live music venue open. Bill Gilmore, the operator of this club, has persisted in the face of great difficulties. I didn't think this place would see its fourth birthday.
In celebration of this milestone, Bill's Blues booked two superstars - L'il Ed on Friday night and Eddy (the Chief) Clearwater on Saturday night. I have seen Eddy Clearwater perform many times and I love him. I haven't seen L'il Ed very often, so I was eager to catch up with him. He is a bona fide blues star these days, still riding the bump in name recognition created by his appearance on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" several months ago.
L'il Ed is a practioner of the "house-rocking" form of blues music, which was established by artists such as Elmore James, Hound Dog Taylor and L'il Ed Williams' uncle, the great J.B. Hutto. The house-rocking band specializes in high-energy music and flashy, crowd-pleasing showmanship. A house-rocking blues band often includes a slide guitarist in a predominant role, usually as front man. Ed is an awesome front man. He has a perpetual smile on his face and enough energy to light up a medium-sized metropolitan region. His slide guitar work is appropriately raucous, his voice ranges from rough to sweet, he executes duckwalks and backbends, walks through the house and dances with fans while playing his guitar - you name it, this guy can do it. He may be small in stature, but his heart and his talent are huge.
The Blues Imperials consists of three skilled players who have been with L'il Ed for a long time. Mike Garrett, the band's second guitarist, is long, lean and unflappable. His guitar solos consisted of strong, "meat and potatoes" blues; he also stepped up to the mic and laid down some convincing vocals on a couple of old Little Walter tunes. James "Pookie" Young is Ed's half-brother and he is a tall, big guy - quite a contrast to L'il Ed! Pookie just LOOKS the way a bass player is supposed to look. He is a "pocket master" as well. Kelly Littleton's work on the drums is just right - not too loud, not too busy, he never loses the pulse. This band is very skilled and well-rehersed, but not slick - they retain that pure, animal spirit that is a must for all great blues and funk bands.
It is always great to see a top act in a small venue like Bill's Blues Bar. The house was full. It should be full every night. To anyone reading this, don't forget to get out and support your local blues club!!