A True Blues Imperial!
My conversation with Lil’ Ed Williams.
By Mark Fredell
So the weekend of July 7th was a guitar enthusiasts dream come true; on Saturday that weekend you had two great shows by two of the best players in the land Tinsley Ellis was stopping by Famous Dave’s and Lil’ Ed (Williams) & the Blues Imperials where playing at the Narrows in Navarre, I once again hosted the Showcase of Rhythm & Blues on KFAI radio and had the pleasure of getting to do a short interview with each of them. Tinsley and I talked for maybe four minutes since he was actually driving at the time but I caught Ed as he and the band were getting checked into their hotel and that chat lasted a bit longer and went a little something like this….
Mark Fredell: On the phone with me right now is Mr. Lil’ Ed. Ed how you doing brother?
Lil’ Ed: Hey Mark, we’re doing good, how you doing?
M.F.: Just great Man.
Ed: Awe good.
M.F: Now I haven’t seen you since last month at Buddy Guys club in Chicago.
Ed: Yeah that’s right.
M.F: Now I know you were going to try and get down here to the station but of course traffic and all that road construction I guess we’ll just do this on the phone. So how was last nights show? You were somewhere in Wisconsin right?
Ed: Yep we we’re in Myrtle Wisconsin, we had a really good time. I had a chance to present the people some stuff from my new Cd.
M.F: Right that just came out in the past few weeks right, tell the people a little about it?
Ed: Right it just came out it’s called Rattleshake, and I’ll have some of them with me down at the club tonight.
MF: Now so the people can know your playing at the Narrows to night in Navarre, what time will you be starting?
Ed: I think around nine or nine thirty, something like that.
MF: Ya know for the people that don’t know it astonishes me in the blues world, as good as you and the band are that there are so many blues fans that haven’t actually seen or heard you, I hear things like oh yeah I’ve heard OF him but they don’t necessarily know what you sound like. But maybe you could share with us a bit about who your influences are where your sound comes from that kind of thing?
Ed: Well you know my influences are really all the old guys, you know my uncle ( J.B. Hutto) started me off. And after then he got me listening to guys like Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James, all those guys you know. Yeah all those guys are basically my influences.
MF: Right. You know you keep it real simple you know it’s real, straightforward gutbucket blues in the finest tradition of Chicago blues (Ed: YEAH…) It’s real Chicago party music.
Ed: That’s right, I like it like that.
MF: Now for all those out there that haven’t seen this man he’s got a great grin, he’s got a smile that goes from ear to ear, his teeth just shining and he’s usually grinning like that as he’s doing some sort of back bend or duck walk across the stage ( Ed laughs on the other line… Yeah that’s right). Its great, but you know that tone you have I gotta say it’s almost eerie, not just how much you look like you uncle (Ed. Well thank you) but your sound you sound so much like him too. The sound you get is almost like a highbred of J.B. and Elmore James.
Ed: Well yeah, you know those are really the two guys I focused on you know J.B he started me off teaching me and then when I heard Elmore, wow, I just loved his style and his tone and I wanted to combine those two together you know.
MF: Well Ed to my ear at least you did it, and it’s a good thing (Ed: Thank you.) Ah E you know I love you guys, and I can’t say enough about what a great show this band does. I was trying to remember the first time I saw Lil’ ed & the Blues Imperials and I don’t recall if it was at the Long Beach Blues Festival in the late 80’s or if was on that Alligator Records anniversary tour you guys all did so many years ago (Ed: Oh yeah that was fun that tour, I don’t remember which one we met at I guess I’m getting old…) Well it was one of them but what I remember it was like the top of my head got blown off simply from the sheer energy and joy you all put into every song on stage.( Ed Laughs…) Anyways Ed what are some of the highlights on this new record?
Ed: You know I really like this new record because it’s got a lot of more of me than what most people think I am, I got a little bit of country and western, blues style, there’s a little bit of soul and even a little rock & roll in there. So this is really more about the stuff I like to listen too you know cause I listen to all types of music now a days. You know back then (when I was starting out) I listened to mostly all the old blues guys cause I was trying to learn it but now, I like to listen to all types of music I like to feel it and hear what’s going on cause every body has something different to say.
MF: Alright then. Now Ed you gotta tell me about, tell the story about your first recording session. Now you had already been playing for some ten or 11 years when you were invited to record for Alligator Records for their ’New Blue Bloods’ record right?
Ed: Oh Yeah, yeah Bruce (Iglauer) had come in when we were playing in a bar called B.L.U.E.S. in Chicago. And on a break he came to introduce himself to me and you know I didn’t really know him I didn’t know Bruce at all. But he introduce himself and told me he wanted us to do a couple of songs for a compilation record he was putting out, which was cool with me you know cause me and my brother (the Imperials bass player Pookie) was trying to, um we were gonna safe up some money and cut a 45 cause records were still out then. So we set the date and got down to the studio about 5, you know I was working at the carwash and my brother was too so we got there in our work clothes cause we didn’t have time to go home and change so there we was boots and all we set up and started playing. At first Bruce told us to just play like we always do, just have some fun and play some songs, well none of us had ever been in a studio before, so that’s exactly what we did, and we finished a song or two and all the people in the control room were hollering and hootin’ so I started doing duck walks and back bends (MF: all in the confines of the studio… Laughter…) Yeah that’s right, right there, just getting wild and crazy. So then after a while he (Bruce) cam out and he said man this is great, lets go ahead and do an album, we shook hands and just kept going, we had cut 30 songs in about three hours, just kept the tape rolling. (MF: I heard that some where in there some one made a beer run too…) Yeah they did I’m not sure who that was.
MF: I guess your first couple of albums were done pretty much the same way weren’t they? Just go to the studio and cut every thing live…
Ed: That’s right, that one (Rough Housin’), Chicken Gravy & Biscuits, then on What You See Is What You Get we did just a couple of overdubs and then the next one to. This one (Rattleshake), this last one we pretty much just went in and cut it. No overdubs or retakes on this one really.
MF: Now the thing I want to know Ed is when are you going to work that deal with Bruce to release all those extra songs from those first sessions?
Ed: I don’t really know, probably when we’re both old and grey and both can’t walk.
MF: Well ok but that’s along time off. Ed I want to thank you for taking some time to spend with us here at KFAI I’ll see you tonight at the Narrows in Navarre, Now we’re gonna get back into the music with the title track form that second record of yours Ed what was that called?
Ed: Oh thanks Mark. That was Chicken Gravy and Biscuits….
MF: That’s right, Chicken Gravy and Biscuits thanks again Ed see ya later my friend…
Later that evening I headed out to catch the first couple sets from Ed and the Imperials it was great as usual though the first set was hampered a bit by some amplifier troubles though once they got them worked out Ed and the guys put on a typically stellar show.
This interview aired live of KFAI Radio in the Twin Cities on July 8th, 2006 and was also published in the paper Blue Monday.