Rocking through what is now album 10 in a 30 year career with the legendary Alligator Records, Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials show no sign of slowing down. Though not as nimble as when he regularly performed back bends and toe walks, the energy and crunching houserockin' blues Lil' Ed Williams and his bandmates generate is as authentic as their late label mate Hound Dog Taylor. Reflecting on those three decades of recording and performing, Williams said he has lived his dream.
“The funny thing about it, when I was walking around praying to the good Lord above saying what I wanted out of life, which was a wife and family, and a nice house to live in, I never asked for too much. We start asking and we get greedy, you know. And here it is: 19 (years of marriage) and 30 years later, I pretty much got what I asked for,” said Williams.
Alligator Records President Bruce Iglauer founded the label in 1971 when he dipped into his savings to record his favorite band, Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers. Taylor’s raw, roughed edged sound inspired Alligator’s motto: “Genuine Houserockin’ Music.” A decade after Taylor’s death, Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials picked up Alligator's houserockin’ baton. Williams said he’s as juiced about that sound as he’s ever been.
“I’m actually trying to rig up my amplifying stuff where I can have three different sounds, maybe four,” laughed Williams.
Williams was on his way to buy more gear to generate those sounds so he could incorporate the traditions of Hound Dog Taylor, as well as blues legends like Elmore James and Ed's late uncle J.B. Hutto into his sound.
“To get those three different sounds going, I’m going to have situate the pedals where they’ll sound like I want them to sound,” said Williams. “I used to look at guys with those big pedal-boards … and I kind of look at them now and go, ‘I know why he’s doing that because he’s creating all those different tones. And it’s a good thing. Being a traditional blues guy doesn’t mean I don’t HAVE to have all these things, it just means that to keep the tradition like it should be, I might need a few of them.”
It’s no secret a traditional lifestyle doesn’t usually accompany a professional performer, traditional or otherwise, which can make relationships difficult. Music performance history is littered with fractured marriages and substance abuse from long hours on the road traveling from gig to gig, and even the odd hours crafting music and performing when at home. To that end, Williams gave credit to his wife Pam, who he says is not only supportive, but is collaborative as a co-songwriter.
“Let me tell you, I love my wife. I went through a lot of women when I started playing music. It was simply because of the night hours in my room studying music. They just couldn’t get it; they couldn’t see that this was my livelihood, my money maker, my joy, my life. They were even saying ‘you’re out there on the road screwing around with thousands of women and you like your guitar more than me.’ It has nothing to do with that. It’s a job,” said Williams.
As a comparison, he recalled his days working as a buffer at a car wash, where hard work and long hours helped him work his way up the company ladder. He said his wife understands that he brings that same intensity to his music, and that gives him space when he’s hunkered in his music room writing and plucking on his guitar. But he said his wife is with him in the recording studio when it’s time to record. Williams said he and Pam write simultaneously in separate rooms, and when they’re ready, they share notes. Once they’ve scratched out and agreed on a song, Pam defers to Ed on how the music should be fleshed out.
“And then when I give it back to her, she’ll say ‘yeah that sounds good, or well, it’s a little too slow or fast, and I’ll go back and change it,’” said Williams.
Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials make an appearance on the Conan O’Brien show November 13, then make a swing through Missouri and Wisconsin before returning to Chicago to play Rosa’s Lounge November 26. Williams said this will be his third appearance on O’Brien’s show, and loves hanging out with the host.