Issue 11-48 November 30, 2017

Cover photo © 2017 bobtest Kieser


 In This Issue 

Don Wilcock has our feature interview with legendary Blues performer Lil’ Ed Williams. We have 8 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Sunny Lowdown, Likho Duo, Wes Mackey, Bad Luck Woman & Her Misfortunes, Dry River, Val Starr & the Blues Rocket, Savoy Brown and Marcus Lazarus.

We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!


 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

Our readers voted Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials Band of the Year in both the 2016 and 2017 Blues Blast Music Awards. They were nominated in the same category 4 other times! If you have ever attended a performance by Williams this is no surprise to you. Ed truly has a great time performing and his exuberance is contagious making him an audience favorite time and time again!

We are grateful to have Lil’ Ed Williams as our featured interview again this week. The last time we featured Ed was in 2012. To see that interview Click HERE

2017 is flying by FAST! The holidays are approaching and so is another important date! Our Fall Advertising Sale ends on December 15 and so does your chance to get our lowest advertising rates of the 2018 season.

See our ad below to get 50% more for your advertising dollar before this great offer ends. For information on all of our great advertising options CLICK HERE.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

sunny lowdown cd imageSunny Lowdown – Down Loaded

Coolstreme Records

www.sunnylowdown.com

12 Tracks/36:53

Some people might have a hard time imagining guitarist Louie X. Erlanger as a blues musician, given that he was a member of Mink Deville, a band that straddled the line between punk and rock, with plenty of soulful touches. What most people don’t know is that Erlanger was a sideman to John Lee Hooker, played with other legendary blues artists, and produced award-winning projects for R.L. Burnside and Paul Oscher. He definitely has a feel for the music.

That becomes apparent when you listen to the second release under his Sunny Lowdown persona. The first seven tracks are solo acoustic tracks delivered with Erlanger’s somber vocals. The title track opens the disc with some fine finger-picking, followed by “Before I Leave This Town,” which has a distinct Burnside influence. On “A Girl I Once Knew,” Lowdown switches to slide guitar, playing some taut licks over a droning rhythm.

The slide is also utilized on the traditional tune, “Ramblin’ and Wanderin’,” that pays homage to the Muddy Waters sound. A cover of the Lightnin’ Hopkins number, “Down Baby,” is a harrowing lament peppered with more intricate picking. Lowdown creates a chilling portrayal of a man swirling in a sea of despair on J.B. Lenoir’s “I Had My Trouble”. The energy level picks up considerably on “Gambling Blues,” a Li’l Son Jackson tune with a forceful vocal.

While the acoustic tracks are slower, dark odes to life, the final five cuts step things up several notches with the addition of a rhythm section and a switch to electric guitar. “You Can Never Tell” is a snappy shuffle, followed by “Wondering and Worrying,” built on a standard progression with Lowdown blowing like Jimmy Reed on his harp. “Texting Blues” is a humorous look at some of the issues of communication in modern relationships.

The rhythm section members are listed as Sunny Bottoms on bass and Sunny Tubbs on drums. There is nothing to indicate if it is Lowdown himself playing the rhythm or both are real, but unidentified, musicians. Either way, the steady-rolling nature of “Rockin’ My Boat” is catchy enough to stick with you. The final track, “That’s Enough,” shows that Lowdown can handle a guitar, riffing with gusto while Sunny Keys adds some flavor on an electric keyboard.

Sunny Lowdown’s latest is a solid offering from a guitarist who is equally at home in acoustic and electric settings, avoiding the traps of excessive volume and endless runs of notes that go nowhere. This one is made for listeners who relish real, traditional blues, served up by an artist who has learned from some of the greats.

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

liko duo cd imageLikho Duo – Blues And The World Beyond

Likho Records – 2017

14 tracks; 68 minutes

www.likhoduo.com

Cliff Schmitt is the house bassist at Terra Blues in NYC and tours with Curtis Stigers; Noé Socha is also a NYC resident, having moved there from his native Italy. They formed this acoustic instrumental duo in late 2016 and will be representing the Long Island Blues Society at the 2018 IBCs in the Solo/Duo category. Cliff plays upright bass and Noé guitar and harmonica and the CD blends six originals with eight covers, all recorded direct to tape without overdubs. The name references a one-eyed monster in Russian mythology and was chosen as both men have impaired vision, Noé being legally blind and Cliff having a vision issue in one eye.

Taking the originals first Noé’s “Derby Street Blues” opens the CD is catchy style, Cliff’s bass work shining through while Noé plays the blues on guitar as well as rack harp. “I’d Say” is a pleasant tune with a mix of blues and jazz, beautifully played. Noé also wrote “Romance Among Thieves” which clearly has roots in the European traditions, the melody could even be French chanson, and “Almere” which has a gypsy jazz feel in Noé’s playing as Cliff’s bass takes the lead. Cliff contributes two tunes: “The Downtowner” is a slow-paced blues with predominantly harmonica leads; “Waltz For Katja” closes the album in reflective mood.

The covers range widely with an Italian tune “Tu Vuo Fa L’Americano” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia” which will be known to everyone. The rest are blues tunes, with mixed results. Muddy’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied” is often played acoustically and the duo’s version has plenty of wild slide at the beginning though it is the harp that takes the lead as the tune develops into a sort of hoedown with handclaps and harp. This reviewer had never heard Freddie King’s “Hideaway” done acoustically and the duo play it pretty straight but two songs associated with Led Zeppelin fare less well: “Black Dog” has Noé’s harp replacing Robert Plant’s vocal and Cliff’s bass Jimmy Page’s guitar; “You Shook Me” follows immediately and runs to almost eight minutes, a long time for the relatively limited palette of the duo. Shorter versions of another Willie Dixon tune (“Spoonful”) and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” round out the album.

Fans of acoustic playing will definitely find something of interest here but the absence of vocals and the relatively limited range of instruments may limit the album’s broader appeal.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

wes mackey cd imageWes Mackey – Back to the Shack

MAPL/Footsie Music

www.wesmackey.com

CD: 12 Songs, 44:13 Minutes

Styles: Traditional Electric Blues, Roots, Blues Covers

The subtitle for Back to the Shack, from South Carolina’s Wes Mackey, reads Retro Collection. Indeed: this album is a showcase of five classic covers and six originals by Wes and co-producer Laura Fisher. Two of the best covers are Willie Dixon’s “Nervous” and Leadbelly’s “Outskirts of Town.” As for their own compositions, Mackey and Fisher have made the grade: a B-. “Who Do Da Voodoo” (reviewed below) and “Blues Shack” are clear highlights, but “I Been Bad” could have used some lyrical tweaking to avoid redundancy. Overall, those who like roots music and blues from the over-70 crowd will be in for a treat. The instrumentation here is top-notch, and as for Wes’ vocals, their tonal quality is fine, but his age clearly shows. What he lacks in pitch, range and volume, he makes up for in style.

His bio states, “With more than 50 years in music he went from working the dusty honky tonks of Georgia to performing in five star venues, festival and concert stages around the world including places like Iceland, Russia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and many others. Mackey learned to play the guitar from the seasoned old blues players of the South where he was born and raised. At the urging of his father he eventually left “Big Estate” in rural South Carolina and moved to Augusta, Georgia where his career really began. His first gig paid 50 cents and a chicken sandwich, but soon he found himself working in bands that would back up touring artists including Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, Stevie Wonder and many others. For years he toured as a side man, and the road finally took him to Canada. After some well-documented challenges that took Wes astray and away from music, eventually he took front and center developing a diverse and interesting career that gave birth to his eclectic take on the blues.”

For the life of her, yours truly could not find the “full musician credits” on Mackey’s sparse-yet-confusing website. Nor could she find them listed on the cover jacket of the album, or in the included one-ply booklet with biographical details and another rave review. For now, however…

Track 03: “Who Do Da Voodoo” – Hexes are some of blues musicians’ favorite subjects, put upon hapless narrators by “Cajun queens” in – guess where? The title of this song is Mackey’s insistent question, his plea to find out the identity of his tormentor. The tempo is just right for swing dancing, no matter if you know the moves or are simply intent on swinging your hips.

Wes Mackey has more than paid his dues when it comes to playing the blues. When he goes Back to the Shack, he’s not only paying homage to his roots, but emphasizing the theme of returning home: another favorite in this genre besides the triad of love, money and booze. Whether it will satisfy fans who are looking for a spectacular senior vocalist is up for debate, but one thing’s for sure. When one has lived this long, performing for decades on end, one deserves the Blue-litzer Prize.

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

bad luck woman cd imageBad Luck Woman & Her Misfortunes – Cursed

Self-Release- 2016

10 tracks; 34 minutes

www.badluckwoman.com

Although the debut release from this Toronto-based band looks like a completely amateur affair with hand-drawn cover work and track notes the CD is actually great fun, blending obscure tunes from ‘sassy’ lady singers of the past with a few originals. Fronting the band on vocals and bass is the Bad Luck Woman herself, Raha Javanfar; her Misfortunes are Fraser Melvin on guitar and vocals, Andrew Moljgun on sax, Tom Moffett on trumpet, Jay Swinnerton on piano and vocals and Jonathan Hyde on drums. On four tracks Galen Pelley and Adam Beer Colacino appear on drums and guitar respectively.

The band tackle two songs from the late 40’s associated with Julia Lee, both full of double meanings: “Snatch & Grab It” opens the album with frantic piano and drums behind Raha’s vocals, breakneck guitar from Adam and a short sax break that recalls the honkers of the post-war period; “Spinach Song” has some fine honky-tonk piano and, in case you were wondering, the song is definitely not about the green vegetable. The title track is a Memphis Minnie tune with modern additions by Raha and “No More Love” is from the Ella Johnson songbook with a fine horn arrangement. More obscure are “I Don’t Know About You”, written by Judis Roxborough and recorded by Lloyd Nolan in 1962 (here given a mambo feel by The Misfortunes) and a drinking song from 1954 by Melvin Smith, “It Went Down Easy”, complete with suitably drunken sounding trumpet. “That’s A Pretty Good Love” was covered by Little Feat on their 1995 album Ain’t Had Enough Fun but BLW’s inspiration is undoubtedly Big Maybelle’s version from 1956. A 1955 single by Dolly Cooper is the source for “Ay La Bah”, a jolly singalong tune to close the album.

Apart from the previously mentioned additions to Memphis Minnie’s song there are two originals: Fraser shares lead vocals with Raha on his tune “The Way You Love” which musically fits well with the retro style of the rest of the album, especially Tom’s trumpet solo; Raha’s “Take Our Time Together” is a straight love song, beautifully played but rather different to the rest of the album.

Raha’s voice is well suited to all these songs and she commands the listener’s attention. Hearing these fairly obscure numbers from the late 40’s to the early 60’s is enjoyable and the band’s playing is excellent, making the project well worth exploring. This reviewer’s only regret is that there were not a couple more tracks to extend the listening pleasure beyond 34 minutes. Mind you, many LP’s were about this length back in the day but we have become spoiled by the additional capacity of CDs!

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.


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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

dry river cd imageDry River – Prayin’ For The Rain

www.dryrivermusic.com

Self release

14 songs – 64 minutes

Prayin’ For The Rain is the second album by Southern Californian blues-roots-rock combo, Dry River. The band’s first album, Lost In The World, featured the duo of singer/guitarist, Oliver Althoen, and harmonica player and occasional vocalist, Dave Forrest, playing and singing together live into a single microphone. Their sophomore effort sees the addition of the rhythm section of Joel Helin (bass) and Ruben Ordiano (drums) on half the album, which is electric blues-rock. The other half of the album is acoustic roots-rock. The overall effect however is a highly enjoyable release.

The band describes themselves as “basically happy people… but they like sad songs” and that is a pretty fair representation of the songs of desperation and redemption that populate Prayin’ For The Rain. The album opens with the acoustic Delta blues of “Lift This Stone”, in which Althoen’s flat-picked guitar follows the vocal melody while Forrest’s harmonica adds ghostly overtones in the background. Althoen sings in a clear, unaffected voice that adds poignancy to the desperate lyric. This is immediately followed by the heavy electric blues shuffle of “Dry River Blues” with its neat repeated guitar motif just before the V chord.

The band moves impressively and seamlessly from the straight-out rock of “Lost In The World” and “Divided For Love” to the country-rock of “Breakfast” and “Lovesick Blues” and the acoustic ballads of “Who Am I” and “Shine Your Light On Me”. The gentle finger-picked guitar and faint harmonica of “Hildegard” are reminiscent of the early-70s folk-rock of (acoustic) Led Zeppelin or Roy Harper, while “Free Man” has hints of “Seagull”-era Bad Company.

Althoen wrote nine of the 11 songs on Prayin’ For The Rain himself, co-writing “Shine Your Light On Me” with Sinda Althoen, while Dave Forrest contributes the acoustic instrumental blues “Making Biscuits” (with lovely slide guitar from Althoen). The musical imagination of all the players, but Althoen in particular, is consistently impressive, for example in the usual picking pattern in “Lay Down And Die”, or in his ability to layer a number of guitars on a track without ever over-playing, while Forrest’s subtle backing contributions are as whip-smart as his solos. The band also brings in a number of guest musicians to contribute additional flavours to a limited number of songs, including Paula Gabriel on backing vocals, Jeremy Hatch on keyboards and Satch Purcell on tablas. Lyrically, Althoen leans towards the darker side of life, with one or two jolting turns of phrase (viz. the second verse of “Dry River Blues”).

Prayin’ For The Rain was recorded and produced by Althoen at his home studio and mastered by Rob Elfaizy at Stage One Studios and together they have captured impressively warm performances throughout.

This album is a roots-rock album with a definite blues influence, primarily through Forrest’s blues-infused harp playing. If your tastes lean towards classic blues-rock, you will find a lot to enjoy here.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.



 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

val start cd imageVal Starr & the Blues Rocket – I Always Turn The Blues On

Sandwich Factory – 2017

12 tracks; 58 minutes

www.valstarrandthebluesrocket.com

Originally from Southern California, Val Starr worked in the music industry for a number of record labels and radio promotions through the 1980’s and 90’s. After re-locating to Sacramento in 2003 she and her husband formed a band playing rock covers but in 2010 they started attending blues jams and from there The Blues Rocket was formed. This is their fourth CD since 2012. Val wrote all the material and handles lead vocals and rhythm guitar, her husband John Ellis is on bass and B/V’s, Frankie Soul on lead guitar and Paul Farman on drums. Todd Morgan adds keys to eight of the twelve tracks while guests include Daniel Castro, lead guitar on two, Steve Wall, slide on two, Tim Barron, harp on four and Guyle Taber who replaces drummer Paul Farman on two. The band plays a range of styles ranging from shuffles to melodic blues-rock.

The CD is well-produced so that all instruments can be clearly heard. Val’s voice is central to the songs and her voice can at times be a little monotone, “What Happens After Midnight” being one example. The title track has some very nice piano which adds a jazzy feel to the track as Val sings of getting “lost inside the shuffle, it’s the only place to go”, some mournful harp towards the end adding to the blues quotient. The two tracks with Daniel Castro are both standouts: his torrid lead lines on “Whether Blues” add to the sense of foreboding conjured up by Val’s lyrics; in contrast “Please Don’t Go Away Mad” is an altogether gentler song which Val sings well and finds Daniel playing very lyrically with a hint of country in his tone. Another good track is “You Better Stop”, a bright shuffle enhanced by Steve Wall’s slide which works very well alongside Frankie Soul’s lead though Steve’s other contribution is on “Blind Eye” that is more rock than blues. “The Baby Mama Song” makes you smile as Val get saucy over a catchy tune with electric piano standing out. Val is certainly prepared to take action when a relationship goes sour, as she explains in the fast-paced “Out With The Old”; “Every time I see you you make me feel blue so it’s out with the old and in with the new”

Overall this album delivers twelve original songs with a couple of standout tracks.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.


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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

savoy brown cd imageSavoy Brown – Witchy Feelin’

Ruf Records

www.savoybrown.com

11 tracks/54 minutes

Kim Simmonds founded Savoy Brown in October 1965. At 69 he still is Savoy Brown as the band is pretty much Kim Simmonds on guitar and vocals and whoever he has a back line. Here we have him with Pat DeSalvo on bass and Garnet Grimm on drums doing a great job backing up this 69 year old British master of the blues guitar.

“Why Did You Hoodoo Me” is a nice an above mid tempo blues rocker where Simmonds demonstrates his prowess on guitar for us. He questions why he’s been cursed by his woman in tis slick production. Kim switches things up with ”Livin’ On The Bayou” with a little creole inspired stuff. A Cajun ballad with some pretty and somewhat ethereal guitar. “I Can’t Stop the Blues” has Simmonds growling out the lyrics in a song about loneliness. The guitar work is what this one’s all about- steady handed and cool. The title cut is up next, a cool slow blues with nice guitar picking, and a ghostly bass line and sound. “Guitar Slinger” picks up the tempo a little and gets into what the title says- guitar slinging. “Vintage Man” shuffles and shines nicely as Kin sings about being a vintage sort of guy in Levis, blue suede shoes and listening to his record player as he listens to and plays Jimmy Reed.

The slide comes out for “Standing In A Doorway.” Slow blues with voice and slide in a melancholy repartee, nicely done. “Memphis Blues” gives us a driving beat and some big guitar and some more slide, but this time it’s greasy and slick. “Can’t Find Paradise” is a big, blues rock anthem sort of piece with some more slide work. Simmonds guitar cries and wails in “Thunder, Lightning and Rain.” It’s a big cut with lots of guitar that goes on for nearly 8 minutes of 6 string soling to a steady bass and drum beat. The CD closes to “Close to Midnight,” a sultry and thoughtful instrumental of Simmonds showing us why he’s highly regard as a guitar man.

If you love Savoy Brown and Kim Simmonds then you’ll be spinning this CD a lot because this is right up your alley. Simmonds shows us he’s still got what it takes. The guitar is not overdone, but it’s big and impressively done. It’s a really enjoyable set of new songs all penned by Kim.

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.


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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

marcus lasarus cd imageMarcus Lazarus – Save My Soul

Self Release

www.marcuslazarus.com

13 tracks / 53:19

Singer and guitarist Marcus Lazarus has put in countless hours performing music that people love to hear, as he has participated in tribute bands that honored artists such as Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, The Blues Brothers, Status Quo, The Beatles, and Gary Moore. But back in 2013 he took a major step in making his own imprint on the music world when he cut his first original album. Marcus has taken the next step with his 2017 release, Save My Soul, and his sophomore album is nothing to sneeze at!

Marcus comes to us from Watford, UK, which is northwest of London. He lists his influences as Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton and Gary Moore, as you will hear this on his new CD (and I think you will be able to figure out a few more). Lazarus did most of the heavy lifting on Save My Soul: writing 12 of the 13 songs, taking on all of the vocals and guitars, playing most of the bass guitar parts, and programming all of the synth and drum tracks. He brought other musicians for a few of the songs, including Liam James Gray and Pete Thompson on drums, and Chris Gipson on the bass. I think you will agree that this is an ambitious project, and that Marcus did a good job with it!

This 53-minute set kicks off with “Why Should I Suffer,” a blues rocker with a melody that is partially lifted from Dylan / Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Lazarus has a pleasant tenor voice that is reminiscent of Eric Clapton, and his guitar work is very tight as it doubles up with the bass and synthesizer parts. A more traditional blues song, “I’m Tired,” follows this up and Marcus chooses to go a bit dirtier with his vocals on this one – he has an impressive array of vocal skills!

There is a bit of everything on this album. After a spooky intro, Marcus explores swamp rock with the title track, “Save My Soul,” and this slow grinder is quite hypnotic. There is also a cool 1970s style AOR song, “Reflection,” which would have been right at home on Robin Trower’s 1974 masterpiece, Bridge of Sighs. Then there is “Stolen Away,” which draws on Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler to inspire both the vocals and guitar work.

There are also a trio of songs that include Chris Gipson on bass and Pete Thompson on drums. Lazarus does a respectable job with the piano on “Women and Booze,” a hard-hitting boogie that fits in perfectly with this eclectic set. Things get fun with the chicken pickin’ on “Ain’t Nobody Beatin’ Down My Door,” which features the lead guitar of Shane Lamont over Thompson’s hard hitting snare. And Lazarus channels the melodic playing of the late Gary Moore on “Woke up in Soho,” which is one of the standout tracks on Save My Soul.

There is one cover tune on the disc, “Flight of the Surf Guitar,” which was originally done by The Atlantics, an Australian surf rock band. The funny thing is, Marcus’ version actually sounds more like classic 1960s surf rock than the original, with a traditional surf rock guitar tone and more appropriate drums. This is a cool instrumental, and a very unexpected inclusion from this English bluesman.

With Save My Soul, Marcus Lazarus pays homage to guitarists that influenced him, and the results are a nice collection of blues-inspired originals. It is cool that he has stretched his boundaries by moving beyond covers, and it will be awesome to see what he does next!

Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.



 Featured Blues Interview – Lil’ Ed Williams 

lil ed williams photo 1At first Lil’ Ed Williams kept his speed at 35 to 40 mph. After all, the young teenager had never driven that big Ford Monterey on a highway before, but soon he began to get the feel of that big boat of a sedan built to be the poor man’s Lincoln Continental. “That baby opened up w-i-i-i-i-ide, and I drove about 65. That was one of the most exciting moments of my life.”

No stop signs, no traffic lights, no other cars on the road. It was 5 o’clock on a Sunday morning, and Lil’ Ed was in the “Green Light Groove.”

Almost half a century later, he’s still putting the pedal to the metal with green lights all the way. Winner of the 2017 Blues Blast Band of The Year and celebrating 30 years with his band The Blues Imperials this November, Lil’ Ed sings about that “Green Light Groove”onThe Big Sound of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, the group’s latest CD on Alligator Records.

Abandoned by his father in 1961 when he was six years old, Lil’ Ed went on to find his family in his band members, Alligator Records President Bruce Iglauer, Ed’s wife Pam, his daughter, and other close family members including his uncle, slide guitar master J. B. Hutto. It was his aunt who gave him the tip to take his first ever drive on the pre-dawn expressway even though she herself had never driven.

“I couldn’t drive. I was scared, so my auntie told me, ‘Get your butt up at like 5 in the morning and get out there and drive ’cause there ain’t no cars out there. You can drive and figure out what you need to do.’

Family has always been broadly defined in Ed’s life. “It was growing up that made me appreciate being with my family. My aunts and uncles seemed to have so much fun when they were together. When their friends would come over, (I’d hear them say,) ‘Oh, you’re my brother, man!’ As a kid, you listen to these things. When you hear that, you say, ‘Why is he (saying) brother? I heard you telling Leo he was our brother. Is he our brother?’ She said, ‘He is our brother.’ My family would say little things like that to me ’cause my aunt and my grandmother raised me until I as about 12 years old.”

When he was six or seven, Ed and his two sisters would sing in church Sundays from nine to three. “Then, we’d come home and Uncle J. B. would pop up. He had his guitar. He’d bring out his guitar, and they’d start playing music. The kids wasn’t allowed in there. We was just in the background watching ’cause we couldn’t hang out with the grownups when they was drinking. That was the rule. I could hear ’em from the next room, and I’d kind of peek in on ’em.”

Uncle J. B. Hutto was a slide guitarist influenced by Elmore James who took over Hound Dog Taylor’s band, the House Rockers, when Taylor died in 1975.

“J. B., he’d see me peeking through the door. He’d say, ‘Come here, boy.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ You like to sing, don’t ya?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ He say, ‘You want to play it?’ And he handed it to me. I was just banging on it.

“He said, ‘Let me show you something.’ So, he’d start showing me how to play it. And the cool part about it was he showed me just one section at a time. He wouldn’t show the whole run of the song. Then he’d leave and that’s all I knew was the first bar. I’d play on. He’d leave his guitar with me, and I’d pluck it, pluck it. He’d come back just before he was ready to go out of town, and I’d say, ‘Uncle J.B., I got it! Listen to this.’ And I’d play that little part I’d learned, and he’d say, ‘Yeah, but can you do this?’ And then he’d go to the next section. It was so cool the way he learned me.”

lil ed williams photo 2It was J.B.’s shimmering guitar string style that would come to define Lil’ Ed’s playing and remind Alligator CEO Bruce Iglauer of Hound Dog Taylor, the first artist Bruce recorded to his fledgling Alligator Records label in 1971.

“That’s just all in the wrist,” explains Ed. “You want to be loose. You can’t be a stiff player. I see a lot of jammers do that. They moving their whole hand instead of letting it shimmy a little bit. And that’s why you can’t get that because they’re stiff in the wrist. You gotta be loose in the wrist.

“J. B. showed me. It freaked me out ’cause I was doing the same thing, and he said, ‘˜Let me show you something, boy.’ He said, ‘Matter of fact, you’re holding it too tight. Let your finger be loose and let your wrist be loose and don’t be thinking about what you’re doing. Just do it.’ I couldn’t understand that. Not think about what you’re doing and just do it at the same time. Do it! But I learned.”

Lil’ Ed first recorded in 1987 on The New Bluebloods, Alligator’s anthology of young Chicago blues artists. “I wasn’t supposed to cut but two songs, and Bruce said, ‘I’m putting you in for a couple of songs. You’re gonna be fine.’ And they put the headphones on my head. I was standing where I could see the guys, and they could see me. Hearing what was coming through those headphones was great to me. He had like half of the staff back behind the glass.

“People were clapping and going, ‘Yeah. Do another one!’ And before I know it, he walked out of the control room, walked over to me and shook my hand. He said, ‘Lil’ Ed, we’ve cut so many songs right now, why don’t we just make an album.'”

Lil’ Ed had added another member to his extended family. “We shook hands and that came from his truthfulness and my truthfulness. It wasn’t about, ‘Oh, we gotta have some papers done.’ I didn’t know about no contract no way. I didn’t learn about contracts until after I got with him two or three years later.”

Ed confirms the legend that The Imperials split the $6 they made on their first gig three ways and adds, “We dropped off 12 to 13 bucks in beer, and I had to give the guys all of that.”

At the time, Ed worked as a buffer at the Red Carpet Car Wash in Chicago. “I actually was going to stay washing cars. That as my thought ’cause I was scared to go out on the road. I don’t know nothing about it, and I didn’t know what to do, but it was my boss at the car wash that was causing me to make the moves that I did. I’d been with him for 10 years maybe. He said, ‘You been here a long time, but right now you’re on the road more than you’re here. Why don’t you try it out. Just stay out there for a month, and if you don’t like it, come on back. You got your job.’

“And that’s what made me do it.”

The owner of that car wash had become another member of Ed’s extended family.

Ed had a sweetheart deal with his boss concerning the two kinds of wax they sold to customers, polish wax and hot wax. “I was a heck of a salesman back then. The polish was the good stuff. So, he was giving me a quarter on every polish wax that I sold. One month he paid me about $500. So, you know I as selling wax, right?”

It was Ed’s 16-year-old daughter who would become the family member who just may have saved his life in the early ’90s. He was living with her, her brother and an ex-girlfriend in a house full of drug addicts. “She looked me dead in the eye. I’m crying, and she’s crying. I didn’t know what to do at this point ’cause I wanted to stay there. She said, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I said to her, ‘I’m here for you guys. I’m here for y’all. That’s why I’m here.’

lil ed williams photo 4“Me and my old lady was pretty much separated. I was staying there, but we were pretty much separated. And my daughter said, ‘Look at the shape you’re in. You’re drinking, you’re drugging. What is it gonna take for you to stop this?’ I had already talked to some people I had been through the program with, and what I was told at the program was, ‘You gotta leave the house that you are staying at now and get straight. You can’ t stay there.’ I didn’t want to hear that. I didn’t want to hear that even though me and the young lady wasn’t communicating. But I didn’t want to hear that, because that was the only place I knew at the time.

“I said (to my daughter), ‘Listen, if I leave here right now, it’s gonna be a long time before you see me again.’ She said, ‘If this I what it takes for you to straighten your life like that, this is what you should do.’

“It was like everything opened up in my mind. I said, ‘Well, I’m out of here.’ I didn’t take my clothes. I didn’t take nothing that I owned. I called my wife-to-be ’cause I had been seeing her at shows, and me and her had been dating a little bit. I called her and I said, Listen, I gotta get away from here. Can you come and get me?’ She said, ‘Where do you want me to pick you up?’ Just like that.

“I was staying on 21st St., and the closest expressway was 290, about a mile and a half away. I told her, ‘You pick me up at 5th Ave. at one of the expressways. She said, ‘Ok, I’m on my way.’”

He ran for a mile and a half.

“I needed to go right then and something was telling me to run. And that was God. He a saying to me, ‘Run as fast as you can.’ That’s all I could hear in my mind, and I just started running. When I got to the expressway, my wife-to-be was pulling up off the ramp.

“That was the grace of God.”

“I didn’t see my daughter until after me and my wife got married. I stayed with her a whole year before we got married, and then I called my daughter and she said, ‘Well, why don’t you come over and see me?’ I said, ‘Ok.’ So, I brung my wife Pam with me. My daughter came out, and I got out. We talked a lot. She said hello to my wife, and she’s crazy about my wife right now today. She calls her mom and all that stuff. It’s all good.”

Once again, Ed’s growing family support structure made up for his being abandoned by his dad. Ed was off the Alligator label for a couple of years, but Bruce Iglauer never abandoned him through that period of drug rehab. “Bruce looked out for me along those years, too. I mean I had some problems, and he was there for me. I think we found out how close we were to one another when the problems started. That’s when you really find out who are your friends, your buddies, and your family. that’s when you find out how really close you really is when you start having problems.

“He was like, ‘Whenever you get ready, call me.’ And there were times when I needed to call him ’cause I needed cash or whatever, he was there for me. He was like, ‘You know you’re not working now. You got to pay this back when you start,’ but it was the trust and kindness that Bruce had that let me know that he was the right guy. He was the right person that I was with.”

Thirty years later, Ed considers his band part of his family with his half-brother James “Pookie” Young on bass, guitarist Mike Garrett, and drummer Kelly Littleton. And, yes, it’s the same lineup 30 years in. With nine albums on Alligator, and a touring schedule that takes them around the world, they bring one of the most energetic live shows to their fans. He shimmies, shakes and undulates like a snake. His sound remains old school Hound Dog Taylor by way of his uncle J. B. Hutto. He wears a fez just like J. B. did, and no matter how fast he moves, that fez stays positioned on top of his five-foot, one-inch frame.

lil ed williams photo 3Lil’ Ed is now one of the longest tenured artists at Alligator Records. He doesn’t record his albums in three hours anymore, but he is constantly refining the process. “I’m trying to get me a studio going, a little studio built so when I’m making my music, I have different tracks I can tweak the way I want to tweak it. I can lay down all the tracks and then my guys go from there. I lay down bass, drums and rhythm tracks, and they listen to what I make and tweak whatever they want to lay on it. I like my guys to be adventurous. I like ’em to take my stuff and put it in their own words.”

Ed says they spent about three days in the studio recording their most recent album. “It don’t take us long to cut. We have a certain technique that we do. We go into the warehouse and rehearse. I make out my little tracks, put ’em on the CD, give ’em to Bruce. He calls me back. ‘Ok, I like this song. I like that song. This song might need some changes.’ Then, I work on ’em a little bit more. Then, he comes over, helps me a little bit with the lyrics sometimes, and then we get the guys, and we go into his warehouse and we rehearse there.

“We make a few extra changes if we need to. Then, we go into the studio. It seems to take a little more time than I really want to have. The more time you spend in the studio, the more money it costs. I’m just gonna let ’em put their own tracks down. We gonna work on it until we think it’s good. I’m gonna present the record to Bruce. That way, when he says, ‘Ok, I like these tunes,’ everybody will know exactly (what to do). Instead of trying to learn what I’m doing, they’ll know exactly what they’re gonna do. We get in the studio and we should be able to pop that stuff down in no time.”

Even songwriting becomes a family affair. “Black Diamond Love” on The Big Sound was inspired by a conversation with wife. “We were talking about diamonds and we was overseas. Pam bought me a ring with black diamonds on it, and I said, ‘Now, that’s black diamond love.’ And she said, ‘You ought to write a song about that.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I think I will.'”

“Whiskey Flavored Tears” came from a dream his mother-in-law had. “We’re sitting down at dinner, and she says, ‘I dreamt that you wrote a song called “Whisky Flavored Tears.”‘ And I said, ‘Really?’ She says, ‘Yeah. I don’t know what the lyrics was. All I could hear you saying as whiskey flavored tears.’ I’m like, ‘Wow. That’s pretty cool. I’m gonna work on that.” A perennial Lil’ Ed favorite “Icicles in My Meatloaf” was also inspired by his mother-in-law. “She was telling the story about how she thought she had worked up the material. She tried to cut it and there was ice in it. (Chuckle)That hits me right there. I’m like wow.”

Lil’ Ed’s view of life today is no longer defined by the difference between polish wax and hot wax. “I’ll tell you what. Watching my family, listening to them and parents always taught me to respect any and everybody, black, white, green or yellow. Respect them and they’ll respect you back. This is the most important thing in life for parents to learn their kids. Respect everybody no matter how rude the person is, no matter how crazy he acts. Treat him with kindness and he’ll treat you with kindness.”

Check out Ed’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/LilEdandBluesImperials

Interviewer Don Wilcock has been writing about blues for nearly half a century. He wrote Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, the biography that helped Buddy Guy jumpstart his career in 1991. He’s interviewed more than 5000 Blues artists and edited several music magazines including King Biscuit Time.


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Minnesota Blues Society – St Paul, MN

Minnesota Blues Society presents our holiday Party and annual meeting Sun, Dec 3, 2-6:30 at Crooner’s Lounge 6161 Hwy 65, NE, Minneapolis.

There will be food discounts, complimentary cake and Music by Squishy Mud. We are accepting non-perishable donations for SACA food shelfma.

Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

The Sacramento Blues Society will be hosting their Annual Member Party December 2, 2017, at the VFW Hall, 2784 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA. 7:00 – 11:00 PM. The IBC runner-up, the Zach Waters Band, will open followed by the award winning Ben Rice Band from Portland, OR.

Admittance is free to all SBS members. Go to www.sacblues.com to join in advance or membership can be obtained at the door. Wheelchair accessible. 21+.

Also Sacramento Blues Society Presents an IBC Fundraiser for the winner of the 2017 Sacramento Blues Society International Blues Challenge Band Competition, Matt Rainey and the Dippin’ Sauce, on Saturday December 9, 2017, TORCH CLUB – 914 15th Street in Sacramento. $10 donation at the door.

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances held every Monday night at The Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.

Blue Monday Schedule: Dec 4 – Studebaker John, Dec 11 – Ed Selinger and Edmopolitans, Dec 18 The Mary Jo Curry Band. For more information visit www.icbluesclub.org.


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