Lil' Ed and the
In 1986, Bruce Iglauer was putting together an
anthology of up-and-coming Chicago blues artists
called The New Bluebloods. One of the bands that he
selected to be a part of the album was Lil’ Ed
and the Blues Imperials, fronted by Ed Williams,
who happened to be a nephew of Chicago slide master
J. B. Hutto. Arriving for their session at
Streeterville Studios, the band was pretty nervous.
For some, it was their first time in a recording
studio. Williams showed up still wearing his work
clothes from his day job at a local car wash.
Once they recorded their
two tracks for the anthology, Iglauer saw that he
still had a couple of hours of studio time left, so
he decided to ask the band if they had any more
songs they wanted to record while they were there.
As Iglauer recently stated in his monthly ad in
Living Blues, it was “one of the smartest
decisions I’ve ever made.” The band launched into
their live set for Iglauer and the gathering
audience in the studio, complete with Williams’
usual backbends, toe-walks, leaping, and sliding on
the floor. After recording ten tracks, each a single
take, Iglauer offered to make an album with the
band, who eagerly accepted. The band ended up
recording thirty songs, with no second takes or
Ten of those tracks were
collected into that debut Alligator release,
Roughhousin’, which fits the label’s slogan,
“Genuine Houserockin’ Music” better than any disc in
their impressive catalog. Williams captures the wild
fun and energy of his uncle and Hound Dog Taylor
with his dirty tone and stinging slide guitar.
Vocally, he’s a bit similar to Hutto, a bit rough
but very expressive. Manning the bass for the Blues
Imperials on this disc were James “Pookie” Young,
Williams’ half-brother. Dave Weld served as second
guitarist, and Louis Henderson played drums.
Of the ten tracks, seven
were written by the band, including the wild opener,
“Old Oak Tree,” featuring plenty of that nasty slide
work. Other highlights included “Everything I Do
Brings Me Closer To The Blues,” a slow blues that
ranks with Williams’ best compositions, “Pride And
Joy,” and “Car Wash Blues,” an autobiographical
tune, given Ed’s regular occupation at the time.
There were three well-chosen covers: Percy
Mayfield’s “You Don’t Exist Any More,” a
hard-driving version of Arthur Crudup’s “Mean Old
Frisco,” and an entertaining take of “Walking The
Dog,” which closes the disc and gives each of the
Imperials a few moments to take center stage.
Lil’ Ed and the Blues
Imperials’ debut release was hailed by some as the
best blues album of 1986, and they remained one of
Alligator’s most popular bands until the mid ’90s,
when the stress of constant touring and gigging
drove Williams to break up the band and gave him a
chance to get his life together. After a brief
hiatus, the group returned to Alligator in the late
’90s and the rest is history, with Williams and the
Blues Imperials having recently released their
seventh disc for Alligator and celebrated 20 years
together. They also enjoy a devoted following of
fans (affectionately called “Ed Heads”).
Chicago blues fans who
like their blues raw and old-fashioned need look no
further than Roughhousin’.
--- Graham Clarke