The saying goes that legends don’t die, they just fade away over time. I’m elated to punch a few holes in that cliché by telling you about a fella to which every blues guitarist to emerge since the late '50s owes at least a little something.
After a recording hiatus of over 30 years Jody Williams has released his first full length album, Return Of A Legend (Evidence). The title couldn’t be more fitting, because this man is one of the blues’ real living legends. Now I’m sure there are a few folks scratching their heads at this point saying “who’s Jody Williams?,” and a few who are saying “Whoa. Cool! He came out of retirement.”
Jody Williams got his start playing on street corners in Chicago with a cat by the name of Bo Diddley. While still a teenager he fell into the company of Howlin’ Wolf and recorded a few classic tracks with him, like “Evil,” Forty-Four” and “Baby How Long.” He became one of the premier session players in Chicago, backing folks like Otis Spann, Willie Dixon, Jimmy Rogers, Billy Boy Arnold, Otis Rush, Floyd Dixon and Morris Pejoe, to drop just a few names. The fiery guitar work that you hear on the now classic Bo Diddley tunes “Who Do You Love?” and “I’m Bad” belong to Jody Williams.
After a legal fiasco over copyright infringement for his “Billy’s Blues,” which to this day many think Mickey & Sylvia stole and called “Love Is Strange,” and general disgust with the music business at the time, Williams called it a day in the late 60s. He made a career in electronics and hasn’t played or recorded since. Until now, that is.
Return Of A Legend is gut busting Chicago blues played with an intensive fervor that plasters a big ole grin on your face for close to an hour, with Williams revisiting past triumphs with new versions of four tunes he cut way back when. His signature instrumental piece, “Lucky Lou,” which has seen covers by just about every blues band there is, starts off this party with Williams airing it out to the max with guest guitarist Tinsley Ellis, credited by Jody as the only guy to play it right.
The classic groove “Moaning For Molasses” is also here, with some evil riffs being traded with another guest guitarist, Sean Costello, who is also featured on the hot shuffle “Monkey Business.” An old friend from those street corner days in the Windy City, Billy Boy Arnold, blows the roof off of “Come Over To My House” with his harp and adds his vocal magic to the fun and funky “I’m Coming Back In Again.”
Some slow blues gets a turn with “She Found A Fool And Bumped His Head” and a reworking of his own “You May,” both of which contain some sound lessons along with showing off this man’s guitar genius. Jody teams with Rusty Zinn for some superb string bending on the instrumental “Jive Spot” and the funny bopping shuffle “Brown Eyes And Big Thighs.”
Besides being an incredible guitarist Williams is still a top notch songwriter, possessing one hell of a voice that is crisp, concise, melodic and thoroughly entertaining. Backing Jody on this scorching record is Ronnie Baker Brooks on rhythm guitar, Allen Batts on organ and piano, Harlan Terson on bass and Kenny Smith on drums.
A big thank you is in order to producer Dick Shurman for not only the excellent production work, but for re-igniting the musical creativity in Jody Williams and making this stupendous album possible. To take a three decade break from recording and return with an album this good is truly the stuff legends are made of. If he never records another track (and let’s hope that doesn’t happen!) this one will go down as one of the greatest.
Welcome back, Jody. It’s good to have you back where you belong! My sincerest sympathies to any fan of the blues that doesn’t add this one to their collection.
---- Steve Hinrichsen
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