We’ve just released The Big Sound of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, the 9th album from this beloved, true blue Chicago band. Ever since he joined the Alligator roster while still working his day job at the Red Carpet Car Wash, Lil’ Ed Williams has continued to grow as a songwriter, singer and guitarist. But he’s never lost the rough and ready musical approach that he learned from his uncle and inspiration, the legendary J.B. Hutto. For this new album, Ed and his wife Pam wrote a dozen memorable songs ranging from wild slide guitar boogies to serious slow blues. For the first time, Ed created not only the lead guitar parts, but also most of the bass lines and rhythm guitar patterns. And he continues to pay tribute to “Uncle J.B.,” this time reworking two obscure Hutto songs, filling them with passion and soul.
Though there’s plenty of serious blues on the album, Ed still loves to inject his ‘off the wall’ sense of humor into some of his lyrics. With the help of his longtime musical ‘family,’ the Blues Imperials (27 years playing together!), Ed brings it all to The Big Sound. No band in the blues creates music so full of raw joy, unvarnished emotion and untamed energy. I started Alligator to record bands like Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials. When I moved to Chicago, I was told, “You listen to the blues to get rid of the blues.” In the case of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, that’s absolutely true. You can hear for yourself at alligator.com, where all the songs on the album are available for streaming and you can download a free track, “Giving Up On Your Love.”
Next week I’ll be traveling to Champaign, Illinois to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from Blues Blast Magazine. I’m very honored, but don’t worry –my lifetime in the blues isn’t over yet. I’ve told Blues Blast that I intend to keep recording blues artists for another 45 years, and then I’ll expect a second one of these awards!
On Oct. 1, I’ll be back in Katowice, Poland, to enjoy the Rawa Blues Festival. Rawa is the largest indoor festival in Europe, and amazingly the founder, Irek Dudek, started this festival back when Poland was still a communist country and western music was considered a symbol of the decadence of capitalism! He still books it today, and this year the festival will feature two of Alligator’s most charismatic ‘next generation’ artists, Shemekia Copeland and Toronzo Cannon, as well as former Alligator artists and still friends of the family, JJ Grey & Mofro and Corey Harris.
Rolling back the clock to the summer of 1988… After seeing the terrific, so-loose-it’s-tight Elvin Bishop Band live in concert near San Francisco and meeting (and immediately liking) Elvin, I knew I had no choice but to sign him. He had already cut basic tracks for a new album at Starlite Sound, a nice studio surrounded by a 10-foot high chain link fence topped with razor wire. (The fence was because the studio was located in the high-crime East Bay town of Richmond, California. The studio was robbed a few years later and the owner/engineer, Bill Thompson, barely escaped with his life).
Elvin’s excellent band made the sessions into a party, constantly laughing and joking while recording guitar solos, horns, and vocals. They cut five new Elvin originals and six cover tunes, some newly written and others gems from Tampa Red, Memphis Slim, Jimmy Reed, Leroy Carr and Piano Red. On past albums, Elvin had often shared the vocals with other singers, but this time his voice was front and center in all its drawling, humor-filled, Oklahoma country boy glory. And of course he sang about what he loved most –women (of both the good and evil varieties), parties, the travails of life, and (no surprise) fishing. His song “Fishin’ Again” even includes my voice among the hollered background vocals. We called the album what it was –Big Fun. This was the beginning of a musical and business friendship that’s lasted almost 30 years.
Don’t be fooled by Elvin’s “aw shucks” down home persona. He’s one of the smartest, most insightful and most deeply caring people I know. He has a tremendous love for the bluesmen and women who inspired him, and has quietly done a great deal to take care of old musicians facing hard times. Behind that crooked grin is a very deep man.
More next time,