Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials


The sensational debut of a great young slide guitar boogie band from Chicago's West Side. "Raw-boned, old-fashioned Chicago blues has a new young master"--NEW YORK TIMES

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1. Old Oak Tree 14:30
2. Midnight Rider 13:56
3. You Done Me Wrong For The Last Time 16:12
4. She's Fine, She's Mine 4:03
5. Everything I Do Brings Me Closer To The Blues 14:06
6. Pride And Joy 3:40
7. You Don't Exist Anymore 4:01
8. Mean Old Frisco 4:14
9. Car Wash Blues 4:32
10. Walking The Dog 4:59

All titles are Williams, Eyeball Music, BMI except the following:

You Don't Exist Anymore (Mayfield, Venice Music)
Mean Old Frisco (Crudup, Duchess Music)
Walking The Dog (Thomas, East Memphis Music)

James "Pookie" Young, Bass
Dave Weld, Guitar
Louis Henderson, Drums
Lil' Ed Williams, Guitar and Vocals

Produced by Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials, assisted by Bruce Iglauer and the Alligator Staff and Friends
Recorded and mixed by Justin Niebank
Recorded at Streeterville Studios, Chicago, Illinois on January 24, 1988, 8-11:15 pm.
Cover photos by Susan Mattes
Back cover snapshot by Mindy Giles
Cover design by Bob McCamant
Mastered by Tom Coyne at Frankford/Wayne, New York, N.Y.

Special thanks to Mindy Giles, Hilton Weinberg, Jay Whitehouse, Bill Wokersin and Sarah Jo Kolanda (the cheering section), plus Pam Hall, Lolita Ratchford, Nora Kinnally, Lisa Shively, Bill Haas, Eric Charles and Sharon Scott.'_Ed_Williams

We like to get wild! We want to see the crowd jump!
-- Lil' Ed Williams

When Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials get wild, it's pretty hard not to jump. The little guy with the gigantic grin and the steel slide wedged on his finger just tears up the stage. Backed by the wicked looking drummer with the braided beard, the shy, boyish rhythm guitarist and the silent-but-deadly bassman, Ed slams his way through the rawest of slide guitar licks and pushes his voice into places where no man has gone before. Then he'll charge into the audience, drop to his knees, and crawl through the crowd of dancers, never dropping a note, while the Imperials drive the beat home. This is a band that normally plays for two hours straight, just tearing through one bottleneck boogie after another, only occasionally slowing it down for a steaming bite of slow blues.


They've been playing together for over ten years, sometimes just for fun, sometimes for fun and money, at some of the raunchiest taverns in Chicago. Since their first gig back in '75, at Big Duke's Blue Flame (for the princely sum of $6 for the whole band), Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials have played virtually every bar on the West Side. They've honed their music in front of the same crowds that used to go hear Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James and Hound Dog Taylor, and learned how to deliver rocking, straight-to-the-gut music in the spirit of the West Side masters.

Ten years on the West Side has made them one tough band, but it hasn't exactly led to fame and fortune. Lil' Ed Williams still works at the same job he's had since he was seventeen -- he's a buffer at the Red Carpet Car Wash. His half brother and bassman, James "Pookie" Young, drives a school bus. Dave Weld, the soft-spoken guitarist, is a typesetter. Only Louis Henderson, the wildman drummer, makes his full-time living as a musician.


There's a fifth "member" of the Blues Imperials -- the late J.B. Hutto. J.B., the great slide player, was Ed's and James' uncle. It was "Uncle J.B." who taught Ed the rudiments of guitar, bass and drums, and hired Ed and James to go on the road for the first time. It was also Uncle J.B. who matchmade his nephews with a young, eager guitarist from the North Shore suburbs who used to drive forty miles to J.B.'s little house in Harvey, Illinois for guitar lessons. Dave had been playing blues since high school, but it was J.B. who helped him develop the unique rhythm style that locks so tightly with Ed's leads. The spirit of J.B. Hutto is there every time the Blues Imperials step onto the bandstand.


In the last couple of years, Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials have begun making their mark away from the West Side. Ed played a guest shot at the first Chicago Blues Festival in 1984, which led to regular gigs at B.L.U.E.S. and Blue Chicago on the North Side, which in turn lead to festival appearances in Winnipeg and Edmonton, Canada, where Ed-mania is now growing to gigantic proportions. But, for the rest of the world, Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials have remained one of Chicago's best-kept secrets. Until now!
-- Bruce Iglauer

He didn't exactly swagger in. Ed and his band, the Blues Imperials, poked their heads into Streeterville Studios music room #2 almost in unison. They were nervous, never having been in a recording studio before, and they were physically sticking close together. They had come downtown to cut two songs for an upcoming anthology of young Chicago blues bands for us. Two other groups had been in the studio already that day -- now it was Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperial's time to play.

None of us (Alligator staffers Bill Wokersin, Hilton Weinberg, Jay Whitehouse and myself, engineer Justin Niebank or friend Sarah Jo Kolanda) had ever seen this band. We'd heard about their raw boogie blues-rock style and their crazy stage antics, but only Bruce Iglauer had even an inkling of what was about to happen -- and he had only seen them once before at a local blues nightspot. 

They each found their spot in the studio, put on headphones for the first time in their lives, looked at each other -- and hit. Ed didn't have his homemade stage fez on, but during the second song, his duck walk across the studio really turned our heads. We didn't miss his hat much after that. And Ed and Dave and Pookie and Louis really started to loosen up when Justin hit the talkback button so they could hear our cheers and whistles after they finished the second tune. "Wanna hear more?" Ed yelled, and we yelled "Yes!" right back at him.

His smile was getting bigger and bigger as they launched into their third, fourth and fifth songs. Somebody suggested a beer run. Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials were turning the studio into a wild Saturday night on the West Side "Now remember to tip your waitress," Hilton quipped, and several of us reached for our pockets.

I think all of us were coming to the same conclusion at about the same time. After all, the tape was running, five songs had been recorded -- and there hadn't been any second takes! No, all we had on tape was the rawest, happiest gutbucket houserockin' music we'd heard since Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers! So when Bruce called a mini-meeting with us, it took only about a minute to decide he should take the next step and walk out into the studio, stick out his hand, and say, "Ed, let's keep this tape rolling and make an album!" 

Well, this recording you're holding is that wonderful and surprising night. Ten tunes out of the thirty (!) they put on tape in a little over three hours! I wish you could actually have seen how Ed's big, brilliant smile infectiously spread to all of us. Or how Louis signified his impeccable timing by reaching out with one hand and grabbing ahold of his high hat cymbal as it was toppling over after a crashing blow, never missing a beat with the other hand. Watching seemingly shy Dave rip out a wrenching guitar lead line, or "Pookie" with his fatback bass guitar and equally thick rubber snowboots {that he had no real chance to remove during the non-stop marathon session), are very vivid scenes, too. And Bruce dancing in the studio control room -- that should be preserved in the Library of Congress! This is a magic record for all of us, on both sides of the glass window in the studio, because everybody was captured by the spirit of Genuine houserockin' music. I hope you are too.

-- Mindy Giles     P.S. Play this record loud