By Norm Dixon
It amazes and frustrates me how commercial radio play lists and record sales charts have for decades been dominated by legions of mediocre, cardboard cut-out "rock" bands and "superstars" while little credit and fewer rewards find their way to the black artists who created the vibrant and spontaneous folk music that has become known as rock 'n' roll.
Audiences in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide recently had the opportunity to experience what a real electric blues and rock 'n' roll show is like when Chicago's incredible Li'l Ed Williams and the Blues Imperials swept through. If talent, energy and sheer excitement meant anything in today's music industry, Li'l Ed and his band would be a household name. They are not because their music is real, raw and unprocessed by the corporate arbiters of what constitutes "mainstream" music.
Li'l Ed explained the band's goal when it performs: "We want the audience to get happy. We want to get wild. We want to see the crowd jump!". They certainly achieved their goal at the Three Weeds hotel in Rozelle, Sydney, which was packed to the rafters on August 31. Seconds after the band launched into its first song, the joint was jumping, and it didn't stop until the third encore 2
55D> hours later.
The Blues Imperials' material ranged from slow, moody blues to the hard boogie inspired by Hound Dog Taylor and the legendary Elmore James. Li'l Ed's marvellous slide guitar work, the searing riffs of guitarist Michael Garret, the marvellous sax of Ed McKinley, the solid bass of "Pookie" Young and the frantic drumming of Kelly Littleton all combined to create one almighty house-rockin' party.
Li'l Ed Williams' enthusiasm was a joy to watch, and the crowd soon found it contagious. He ran, jumped, crawled and duckwalked all over the stage. At one point he leapt on Mike Garret's shoulders and they both plunged into the throng, playing continuously as they wound their way towards the bar.
Blues music is the music of battlers, a fact reflected in Ed Williams' musical carreer. Just two years ago Ed was playing around Chicago's small clubs on weekends and supporting himself by working at the Red Carpet Car Wash. His brother, James "Pookie" Young, helped make ends meet driving a local school bus. The two brothers, who learnt their skills from their uncle and slide guitar legend J.B. Hutto, were paid the grand total of $6 (split four ways) for their first gig in 1975.
In 1986 Li'l Ed and the Blues Imperials were invited to record two
tracks for an anthology of young Chigago blues artists being put
together by Alligator Records. The band, knowing no other way, performed as if they were "live". The two scheduled tracks were completed in the first 15 minutes, and the recording session turned into a party.
Three hours later, 30 songs had been recorded without a single second take. The band was offered a full-album contract on the spot. Ten of those tracks became their first album, Roughhousin'.
Roughhousin' and a new album, Chicken, Gravy and Biscuits, will soon be available in Australia. If just a fraction of the high-energy, enthusiastic entertainment that the band provided on stage is reflected on these records, they will be well worth grabbing.