Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials. Photo by Paul Natkin.

Dalton — Chicago bluesman Lil’ Ed Williams is coming to The Stationery Factory on Friday, May 17, at 7:30 p.m., with his band The Blues Imperials.

Chicago blues has been described as Delta blues electrified, Muddy Waters being one of its chief progenitors. Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials have been playing Chicago blues together for over 30 years, with their roots going back to blues guitarist J. B. Hutto (Ed’s uncle), who helped Ed put his first band together. Since 1989, the band’s lineup has been Williams on lead guitar and vocals, Michael Garrett on rhythm guitar and vocals, James Young on bass, and Kelly Littleton on drums. “We’re not band members,” says Williams, “we’re family, and families stay together.”

There are plenty of bands who play bluesy music, and many of them are excellent. There are also a few honest-to-God, authentic blues bands of the old school. Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials are of the second variety. The Chicago Sun-Times calls them “the hottest purveyors of bottleneck boogie to come out of Chicago since Hound Dog Taylor.”

The Chicago Reader calls their music a “soundtrack for dancing and celebration infused with a sense of hard-won survival.”

And The New York Times weighed in, writing that “Raw-boned, old-fashioned Chicago blues has a new young master–Lil’ Ed Williams.”

The story from Ed’s website of the band’s first visit to a recording studio will give you goosebumps:

The band — never having been in a recording studio before — treated the studio like a club, playing live to Iglauer, the engineer, and all the people on the other side of the control room glass. After Ed recorded his two rehearsed songs quickly, there was still plenty of studio time left, so they just kept playing. After 10 songs were in the can, Iglauer offered the band a full album contract. The end result of the session was 30 songs cut in three hours with no overdubs and only one second take. Twelve of those songs became the band’s debut album, ‘Roughhousin’,’ released in September of 1986.

The Village Voice wrote, “Roughhousin’ just may be the blues album of the year.” The record also earned praise from Spin, Musician, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, and others.

Blues music is uniquely American and a national treasure. Jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock ‘n’ roll wouldn’t exist without it. Even the Boston Symphony Orchestra can’t live without blues music (watch for the Marcus Roberts Trio at Tanglewood on Parade this summer), and the BSO’s new Composer Chair Carlos Simon knows the blues as well as any composer the orchestra has worked with.

In a world plagued by pop-culture artificiality, bands like Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials are hard to find—unless you live in Chicago or, this month, Berkshire County.

See Chicago bluesman Lil’ Ed Williams and The Blues Imperials at The Stationery Factory, 63 Flansburg Avenue,
Dalton, MA, on Friday, May 17, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $25, are available here.

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