Ed Williams comes by his nickname honestly, but don't be fooled by his diminutive stature — Lil' Ed is a Blues giant.
From the power of his guitar prowess, in slide mode or straight-ahead riffing, to the rumbling essence of his gritty vocals, Lil' Ed Williams is among the last and best of the old school Chicago Blues rockers.
Blues is in Williams' blood; his uncle was legendary slide guitarist J.B. Hutto, who mentored Williams as a child. By age 12, Williams was proficient on guitar, bass and drums and he and his half-brother, James "Pookie" Young, made money playing music as teenagers around the Chicago area. The pair launched the Blues Imperials in the mid-'70s, but Williams and Young needed full time jobs to make ends meet; Williams buffed bumpers at a car wash and Young drove a school bus.
In the mid-'80s, Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer was fleshing out a Chicago compilation with untested talent and gave the Blues Imperials a shot. Lil' Ed and company stormed through 30 songs in three hours and Iglauer offered the band a contract on the spot. Ten songs from that recording session made up Lil' Ed's debut album, Roughhousin'.
After a couple more acclaimed albums, Williams broke up the original Blues Imperials to get his life and mental health in order, and finally reformed the band in 1998. Their 1999 album Get Wild! and their incendiary performance at that year's Chicago Blues Festival were notices that Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials were truly back.
Williams and the Blues Imperials have continued to captivate and energize audiences everywhere (particularly on TV, where Lil' Ed taught Late Night host Conan O'Brien how to play the Blues) and are still ripping it up in the studio, most recently on their last Alligator album, 2006's magnificent Rattlesnake.
Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials have made slobbering believers out of the most jaded Blues fans. You will be next.
Get more details on the Cincy Blues Fest and find nearby bars and restaurants here.
Monday • Northside Tavern
Accordionist/visual artist Beth Tacular christened her trio Bowerbirds after reading a description of the New Guinea/Australia avian in a children's encyclopedia. Tacular was intrigued by the male bowerbird's talent for creating a ground nest (or bowers) that is essentially a rudimentary sculpture, designed with an aesthetic sense in order to attract a mate.
There are interesting parallels between the species and the band. Bowerbirds' roots began a half dozen years ago when guitarist/vocalist Phil Moore and pianist/vocalist Mark Paulson relocated from Iowa to North Carolina and formed Ticonderoga.
Although the acclaimed band imploded on an East Coast tour, Moore and Paulson resolved to remain musically involved and brought in Tacular, who Moore had met through her visual art. Tacular encouraged Moore to explore his artistic nature through painting while Moore nudged Tacular to revisit her long dormant musical skills; the pair eventually became a couple.
The first Bowerbirds songs were directly influenced by the bucolic South Carolina swamps where Moore and Tacular were living at the time. The sonic translation of that environment resulted in songs that suggested a sparse take on Americana prismed through a decidedly '30s/'40s Appalachian/Dust Bowl sensibility. After finding a home in the Raleigh, N.C., scene, the Bowerbirds wrote and recorded their first two releases, the Danger at Sea EP and their full-length bow, Hymns for a Dark Horse, both for local Burly Time Records.
They might well have toiled away in obscurity if not for a glowing album review from Mountain Goats' frontman John Darnielle on his Web site. Bowerbirds' recent signing to Dark Oceans was marked last month with a more widely distributed, bonus-tracked reissue of Hymns and continues with the trio's current tour where they're staging their compelling Andrew Bird/Jeff Buckley back-porch vibe.