“I call it gut-bucket blues,” guitarist Lil’ Ed Williams says of his hard-driving Chicago blues sound, “’cause it gets down in the gut and makes you move around.” Nephew of the legendary slide guitar bluesman J.B. Hutto, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, boasting the same lineup for 27 years, have been tearing it up with Alligator records trademark house- rocking vigor since they were signed to the label in 1986, but a version of the band had been together a decade prior to that.
Williams literally grew up in Chicago blues clubs, Uncle J.B. painting a mascara mustache on him, topping it off with a big floppy hat and a trench coat for added disguise to sneak him in clubs as underage musician. The tutelage by his uncle created a slide style like Hutto’s Elmore James-influenced sound.
Calling their latest release The Big Sound is no hype. Ed and the Imperials live as large in the studio as they do in person. That tradition started on Ed’s ’86 Alligator debut, Roughousin’, when the naïve artist treated the recording session like he was in a blues club playing to an audience. Egged on by cheering producers, staff and anybody else Alligator founder Bruce Iglauer could round up and pack in the studio, Taylor cut his first record in two hours, laying down 30 songs. He takes it a little slower these days, but that initial energy and excitement is still palpable.
Even a bucolic sounding title like “Raining in Paris” is a raucous vehicle for Ed’s slippery, gut-bucket slide work that recalls Hound Dog Taylor’s rattly kitchen table leg slide sound. All but two of the songs are originals, written solo or with wife Pam. The two covers are Hutto’s, “Shy Voice”, another tune whose title belies its bombastic rattle and hum, like Hound Dog on the loose again with that flyin’ kitchen table leg, and “I’ll Cry Tomorrow,” which is more like Elmore James spliced in with some Albert King and a healthy dollop of reverb laid on for good measure.
But Ed’s no clone. His own stuff rocks and rattles and hums just as hard as his uncle’s, especially on done home vittle anthems like “I Like My Hot Sauce Cold.” As demonstrated on previous outings like ’06’s “Icicles in My Meat Loaf,” Ed’s kinda picky about his ingestibles. “I like my bar-b-q warm and my hot sauce cold, I like it scrumtily delicious,” Ed tells his server, punctuating his remarks with some blistering slide.
In his hands even a shuffle like “Green Light Groove” gets hustled along at a frenetic pace, clanging and banging like a crazed chef hurling pots and pans across the kitchen.
Its a great performance, just like the one you’ll see when he comes to your town. Age, maturity, and common sense prohibit him from doing the back bends he used to pull off, trademark fez nearly touching the floor, but the music is still as nimble as ever, as much fun to hear as it is to see.