May 22, 2008


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Meet the King of the Slide Guitar
Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials take a drive to Franklin
By Brian Early

When Ed Williams answered the phone, he was at the garage getting the final tunings on his van before heading out on tour.

“I’m getting it ready to out on the road,” he said. “I’m trying to get it right.”

Williams, known as Lil’ Ed, and his band, The Blues Imperials, have gigged for more than 25 years, playing the West Chicago Blues. Most of his gigging life has been free of car trouble. But a year and half ago he found himself stranded on his way home from a gig on a cold winter night.

“We were heading home from Iowa, and we got almost 100 miles away from home. Something went out, and the car wouldn’t start. It was so cold,” he said. “We sat in the van close to two hours waiting on the tow truck guy, who never showed. It was so bad that night, every guy we called was busy. I’m about to freeze to death.”

After pleading with another tow truck operator, the guys got a truck to pick them up and take them to a hotel, and then tow the van home. Most of the band stayed in the van for the tow.

“It was jacked up,” he said. “We were scared to death.”

The van should be in order when they play a show in Franklin next Friday, May 23, at Mokalaki Golf Club. But Williams doesn’t drive. His bassist and drummer take turns driving.

“I have too much to do on when I’m on the road. I need all the energy I can get,” he said. “That’s what I hired them for. I hired them to drive. When I get on stage, everything that’s in me is coming out.”

Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials are known for the high-energy shows, but what gets played, he said, all depends on what kind of crowd shows up on any given night.

“I can either rock all night or I can cry all night. That’s basically what it’s all about,” he said. “When you see Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials, get ready to rock and roll. It’s up to them on how to make my show go.”

Last week, the band finished recording a new album, but Williams will not say much about what’s on it. “I want it to be a surprise,” he said.

He did allow that one song wouldn’t be in the strict blues genre.

“I put a country and western tune on my new CD. I love country and western,” he said. “Country and western tells a story just like the blues, but just in a different fashion.”

While he just recorded a new album (21 songs in three days), the band is touring in support of their latest album, Rattleshake, which was released in 2006. Williams is dubbed the King of the Slide Guitar, growing in Chicago, learning licks from his uncle, J.B. Hutto, a Chicago slide guitarist and recording artist. He’s been working nearly non-stop since his early days of playing music in the 1970s.

“I’ve been doing it for 30 years,” he said. “And I think I’ll be at it until the day I die.”

Hear the life of Aoife
Where: Chester Congregational Church, 4 Chester St., Chester
When: Sunday, May 18, at 2 p.m.
Admission: free