Singing the blues on The Emerald Coast

imperials

Playing a free concert on March 6 at 6 p.m. at The Village of Baytowne Wharf Events Plaza is legendary blues band Lil' Ed and The Blues Imperials, (from left), guitarist Mike Garrett, bassist James "Pookie" Young, slide guitarist and vocalist "Lil'" Ed Williams, and drummer Kelly Littleton.

Special to The Log
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013 at 14:43 PM.

Chicago native Ed Williams' family tree has deep roots in blues music that can be traced back for years.

His love of music was ingrained in him at a young age by his uncle, J.B. Hutto.

Hutto was a blues legend in his own right, a well-known recording artist not only in his hometown of Chicago, but also throughout the country for his ability to play the slide guitar and his songwriting skills.

Today, more than three decades have come and gone since that blues fire was lit inside Williams, and he's never looked back. Out of that fire came more than ashes, however. Lil' Ed and The Blues Imperials was born, and 24 years later they're still together and still playing music.

Slide guitarist and vocalist Williams said that The Imperials are more than just band members to him, they're family.

The band’s bassist is Williams' (slightly) younger half-brother, James "Pookie" Young, the guitarist is Mike Garrett and the drummer is Kelly Littleton.

Not only are the four fellows musically inclined, they are pretty good with a pencil and paper as well, writing most of their songs throughout their career.

With the release of their eighth record — Jump Start — the band has found themselves on their way to our sandy-white beaches to play their blues on the Emerald Coast.

On Wednesday, March 6, at 6 p.m. at The Village of Baytowne Wharf's Event's Plaza, Lil' Ed and The Blues Imperials will hold a free concert. as part of the Wednesday Night Concert Series.

If you would like to attend the free concert, call 850-267-8000 or visit baytownewharf.com.

"We've been around," said Williams. The band has played all over America, and even a handful of places in Europe. "Paris, Spain, Norway, Germany, Switzerland," and countless other locations.

After being in the business of the blues for more than two decades,  neither Lil' Ed nor The Imperials seem to have any plans to slow down anytime soon.

Since blues music came to be, the assumption about blues music — and blues musicians — is that they walk wistfully, slowly, hand-in-hand with heartache, sorrow and a hint of moroseness.

According to Williams, that's not always the case with blues, it's just a predisposition people have formed. It's certainly not the case with Lil' Ed and The Blues Imperials.

The surprisingly upbeat and jovial Williams told The Log that blues music is as much about happiness as it is about sorrow. "Being on stage performing is like therapy to me," Williams said. "If I'm sick or sad or whatever, once I'm on the stage I feel great."

Fan interaction is a big deal for the band as well, who agree they love playing no matter where they get the opportunity to play, but small, intimate clubs are their favorite venues because they feel so personal.

"It's like running a marathon. Your first set you start at a normal, jogging pace, then once you get to your second and third sets you pick up the pace and run full speed to the finish line," Williams said. "I call it getting pumped up and pumped out."

Watching their fans reactions is just as important — if not more, than the actual music.

"When I watch our fans, I can tell if they've gone through the same things in life as me," Williams said of the loyal Lil' Ed and The Blues Imperials fans.

"Blues music crosses so many generations," said Williams, who noted that it's not unusual to see a grandmother and a teenager at one of their shows.

Williams told The Log that since signing with their record label nearly 20 years ago, Alligator Records based in their hometown of Chicago, their main goals have been to play good music, give it all they’ve got and stay true to ourselves and our fans.

When Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer invited Lil' Ed and The Blues Imperials into his studio 18 years ago to record "one or two songs," they never imagined those few songs would turn into a three-hour, 30-song recording session complete with a record deal.

"He was impressed because we knew so many of the good, old, classic songs," said Williams.

"All anyone can do is give it all they've got, then their done, so we're going to keep doing that until we can't," he added.

 



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