Archive for May, 2009

in performance: grace potter and the nocturnals

grace potter and the nocturnals

the new grace potter and the nocturnals. from left: catherine popper, grace potter, matt burr, benny yurco, scott tournet.

“By the end of the night, you all are gonna be a mess,” promised Vermont rocker Grace Potter last night at The Dame. The fact that the audience was in pretty orderly shape by evening’s end was a testament to its fortitude because Potter offered a tireless pop-soul slam down of a performance.

Distinctly Southern in the musical accents it displayed, Potter recalled the bluesy stamina of Bonnie Raitt on the modestly revivalistic Big White Gate and the more jam savvy grit of Susan Tedeschi during Toothpaste and My Table. While those are pretty common reference points in appraising Potter’s vocal prowess, neither suggests the stamina she and the newly realigned quintet version of her Nocturnals band (in what was only its third touring performance) maintained during the one hour, 45 minute set.

Songs like Stop the Bus and 2:22 unfolded as thick, punctuated blues incantations where Potter’s B3 organ grooves set up one rich, anthemic guitar solo after another from Scott Tournet. There were also times (Ah Mary being one) when Potter joined the band’s front line fun for beefy hooks on a vintage Flying V guitar. During Some Kind of Ride, though, her merry bash on a tambourine mingled with drummer Matt Burr’s tireless drive.

Potter saved the best for encore time by delivering a Sunday morning sermonette (it was, after all, after midnight on Saturday) that included a solo B3 version of Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Released and gospel rave reading of the two-part original Nothing But the Water.

No, the crowd wasn’t a “mess’ after all of that. But they appeared weary and satisfied enough to call it a night. Potter, however, looked like she could have kept playing until the roosters crowed.

in performance: norman brown

norman brown.

norman brown.

The voice came from the upper decks of the Opera House early into smooth jazz guitarist Norman Brown’s 85 minute set. “Hey Norman,” it cried. “Where’s the saxophone?”

The abundantly good natured Brown looked initially stymied by the remark but quickly offered the most honest answer he could muster. His band, he stated, didn’t need one.

And without question, it didn’t. Sure, smooth jazz, the genre that favors predominantly instrumental music that owes as much to R&B and pop as it does to actual jazz, is known for laying on the glossy jams, both on record and onstage. Last night, Brown operated only with a quartet of two keyboardists, a bassist and drummer behind him. And while his recordings have increasingly promoted vocal tunes, the Opera House show relied heavily on instrumental works that favored thickly strummed melodies over conventional picking solos (although there were also a few of the latter, as well).

The trim band was seldom offered solo spots. They instead provided efficient, orchestrated and even brass inspired backdrops (as on BWB) so that Brown’s guitar work could flourish.

Comparisons to George Benson, which have commonplace throughout Brown’s career, were still unavoidable. The majority of his singing was in the form of scat vocals that matched the darting, rhythmic patterns of his guitar playing – a trick that was a Benson trademark. Brown even admitted as much during a medley where he played fractions of tunes by his influences. Benson was one. So was Wes Montgomery, which only made sense as he was as obvious an inspiration to Benson as Benson as been to Brown.

During the more rugged compositions in last night’s program – the lyrically propulsive Any Love and the modest tropical flow of Lydia – a touch of the keenly rhythmic sound of the great Montgomery came alive. The crowd simply grooved happily to the sunny cheer of Brown’s music. But under the summery exterior, a serious jazz heart – one that wasn’t always smooth or sleek – beat away.

summer album of the week: 05/30/09

jeff beck: wired (released may 1976)

jeff beck: wired (released may 1976)

Brit rock guitar hero Jeff Beck explored jazz fusion on the brilliant (and, in fact, superior) Blow By Blow in 1975. On Wired, he conquered it wholly by teaming with members of the two primary Mahavishnu Orchestra lineups (keyboardist/drummer Jan Hammer from the first, drummer/keyboardist Narada Michael Walden from the second) and re-enlisting  George Martin to produce. From there, Wired sung with gloriously noisy and anthemic pride, from the wildfire guitar/synth duet with Hammer on Blue Wind to a wondrously bluesy reading of Charles Mingus’ Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. Walden’s Love is Green, one of Beck’s few acoustic excursions, brings the album to an unexpectedly wistful close. But the rest of Wired screams to screamed from open windows on late summer afternoons.

after the storm

guitarist/vocalist norman brown performs saturday at the opera house.

guitarist/vocalist norman brown performs saturday at the opera house.

Norman Brown had all the makings of a sterling summer at his fingertips.

First off, the celebrated smooth jazz guitarist and vocalist had recorded a duet with George Benson, whose sleek blend of pop, jazz and R&B has often been seen as a precursor to Brown’s music. The song, a celebratory cover of the 2000 United We Funk pop-funk hit Nuthin But a Party, is scheduled for release this summer on Benson’s next album.

“This is my hero we’re talking about,” said Brown, who performs Saturday at the Lexington Opera House as part of the African American Forum’s annual summer series of smooth jazz concerts. “This is the guy I set out to learn from by listening to his records. And he calls me up on the phone and asks me to be part of his new project? I was totally honored.”

Then there is ongoing work on Brown’s next recording, a project that will extend a string of sleek guitar and vocal dominate albums that dates back to the early ‘90s.The fifth of Brown’s seven recordings, 2002′s Just Chillin’, won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album.

“Everything’s at a beautiful place, man. I feel really inspired go to work on this new album. We’re going to keep this thing moving forward and the smiles on people’s faces.”

Finally, there were preparations for Brown’s fifth annual Summer Storm Tour, a seasonal trek where the guitarist enlists one or two musical pals to fill out the concert bill. This summer, the tour had tapped Wayman Tisdale, the Olympic gold medalist and National Basketball Association all-star who, even before his retirement from sports, forged a second career as a top selling smooth jazz bass guitarist.

Brown and Tisdale were friends for nearly two decades, having begun their recording careers with a Motown-distributed label aptly called Mojazz. After breaking his leg at home in 2007, doctors found a cancerous tumor behind Tisdale’s knee. His leg was amputated last year. True to what Brown calls a “beautiful” attitude, Tisdale released a new album last summer aptly titled Rebound.

But the Summer Storm reunion for the two players was not to be. Tisdale died at the age of 44 on May 15.

“Wayman was so looking forward to this,” Brown. “He was so excited about doing this tour. It just hurts my heart.

“Back in the Mojazz days, he was already a fan of mine. And that was so cool. It really was. I wasn’t a guy who really followed sports and all that, so I didn’t know much about the players. But we did a lot of concert dates together, a lot of promotional things for our records and, man, we just became really good friends.

“He was just a cool guy. Huge smile. He had a smile as huge as my body. I never saw him treat anybody bad. I never saw him mean.  I never saw him mad or upset. I’ve seen him disappointed, but never mad. He was just a beautiful cat.”

The Summer Storm Tour kicked off last weekend without postponement in Seattle with saxophonists Candy Dulfer and Eric Darius as guests. But there is still a summer’s worth of concerts to contend with that now won’t include Tisdale. Saturday’s Lexington performance was never part of the Summer Storm Tour, so it will take place without any changes. But the majority of Brown’s summer schedule has had to deal with considerable logistical shuffling as well as some counseling with nervous concert promoters.

“It’s become quite difficult,” Brown said. “I got the news about Wayman early that morning. It was a Friday morning, I believe. And not 30 minutes later, promoters were calling me wanting to know who the replacement was going to be. I was like, ‘My goodness. This just happened. Can we please just digest this for a moment?’

“It has been like that since I first got the news. I’m still dealing with it. One of the shows was even cancelled. They didn’t want to do it all without Wayman. So it’s been a real effort to try and keep things moving.”

What Brown has decided, though, is that all of his summer shows, including the Lexington date, will be dedicated to Tisdale’s music and memory.

“We’re going to play some of his music, maybe show some video footage. We’re just going to have a moment and celebrate the life of Wayman Tisdale.”  

Norman Brown performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Lexington Opera House.Tickets are $42.50, $47.50, $55. Call (859) 255-2653.

the skids and the straits

los straitjackets: guitarists eddie angel and danny amis, bassist pete curry, drummer jason smay.

los straitjackets: guitarists eddie angel and danny amis, bass guitarist pete curry, drummer jason smay.

Two killer bands, both longtime regional favorites, are teaming up to revisit the region twice this weekend. But you will have to hit the road to catch them.

The bill features the veteran roots rock party trio Southern Culture on the Skids with the masked men of surf, twang and instrumental pop, Los Straitjackets.

southern culture on the skids: dave hartman, rick miller, mary huff.

southern culture on the skids: dave hartman, rick miller, mary huff.

Southern Culture on the Skids – SCOTS, to its fans – has not released a new album since the 2007 covers project Countrypolitan Favorites. But that is a blast of a record if you haven’t heard it, from Mary Huff’s highly respectful cover of the 1961 Wanda Jackson b-side Funnel of Love to Rick Miller’s instantly infectious country-a-go-go version of the 1967 Byrds hit Have You Seen Her Face.

Los Straitjackets may be known for summoning sounds of vintage surf and twang. But its newest recording, The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets, displays its guitar savvy sound in a lighter, warmer light with new original tunes like Cal-Speed, Fortune Cookie and Nocturnal Twist. The titles figure into the album’s elaborate comic-style album art, as well.

The Skids and the Straits play Friday at Headliner’s Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Rd. in Louisville and Saturday at the Southgate House, 24 East Third St. in Newport. (9 p.m., $18 each night). Call (502) 584-8088 for the Louisville concert and (859) 431-2201 for the Newport show.

critic’s pick 73

eric clapton and steve winwood: live from madison square garden.

eric clapton and steve winwood: live from madison square garden.

Take two marquee names from the ‘60s that have continually been able to reinvent their careers over the years, artists that can still generate considerable consumer interest just off their respective histories. Now fashion a big ticket tour by pairing them on the same bill, toss them into one of the most heralded (and one of the least intimate) performance halls in the world to chronicle the whole thing and – presto! – you have instant, marketable rock nostalgia.

Live from Madison Square Garden, thankfully, is nowhere near that obvious or morose. But one has to admit that buzzers usually (and rightly) sound over live albums like this, even though Clapton and Winwood shared a connection at the end of the ‘60s in the short lived Blind Faith that has largely gone unexplored ever since. Then again, fans were also aglow a few years back when Clapton briefly reteamed with Cream. Their resulting live album turned out to be pretty static and uninvolving.

But, shock of shocks, the new Live from Madison Square Garden abounds with solid playing, inspired performances and a sense of living history that, frankly, is a bit unexpected coming from these two. There is even a sense of surprise to the whole thing.

Not surprising, though, is the fact that Winwood is the catalyst here. On tune after tune, his voice reflects an ageless sense of soul and bluesy integrity. Perhaps the most telling affirmation of Winwood’s still vital performance strengths come not from the Blind Faith or Traffic catalogs, or even his own fine solo recordings – all of which are touched upon here. No, the kicker is that most familiar and perhaps overdone of soul anthems Georgia on My Mind, which Winwood sings and plays on Hammond B3 organ without accompaniment. It’s a subtle, churchy rendering that emits a pronounced yet understated R&B glow.

Elsewhere, Winwood pulls some real hares out of the hat in terms of song selections. How about the trippy Traffic lullaby No Face, No Name, No Number,  the album-opening Blind Faith boogie fest Had to Cry Today or the even the ruminative 1986 rocker Split Decision, one of the few overlooked songs from the career-redefining Back in the High Life album? Through it all, Winwood sings with a plaintive, soulful wail that has only grown more mysterious.

The top-billed Clapton has his moments, as well – though they mostly come in his still-storied guitar work. Aside from a pair of ill-chosen solo career hits (1985′s forgettable Forever Man and a truly strung out Cocaine), Clapton spends much of the live album embracing his blues roots.

He’s right there with Winwood on the Blind Faith chestnuts Can’t Find My Way Home and Presence of the Lord and helps bolster the guitar muscle behind Traffic relics like Pearly Queen and a seering Dear Mr. Fantasy. But Clapton is at his loosest – and, seemingly, happiest – when taking on Sam Myers’ Sleeping in the Ground and a wonderfully sinister version of Otis Rush’s Double Trouble.

As with Winwood, Clapton capitalizes on the moments when he has the stage to himself. For Robert Johnson’s Rambling on My Mind (and, on the DVD of Live at Madison Square Garden, the Johnson gem Kind Hearted Woman), Clapton is at peace with the world, playing  the blues he has long adored as if he were meditating in his own living room.

jay bennett, 1963-2009

jay bennett

jay bennett.

It was easy to lose track of Jay Bennett after he parted ways with Wilco during the making of the seminal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album in 2001. He issued a steady stream of indie solo albums after that, most of which are now out of print. A personal favorite is a 2004 record of starkly defined confessionals titled Bigger Than Blue. I found it in a Cincinnati record stories last winter marked down to $4. It was as if nobody else wanted it.

But it was with Wilco that Bennett made his mark. At the band’s two initial Lexington shows – a 1996 Kentucky Theatre concert that it decidedly stole from the headlining Jayhawks – and a crammed, hopelessly sold out Lynagh’s date the following winter – Bennett was the utility man, coloring in founder Jeff Tweedy’s songs with guitar and keyboard orchestration that was, alternately sullen, sweet and disturbing.

Bennett died in his sleep Sunday morning at the age of 45. Details of his death are still unfolding. But his relationship with the Wilco world was strained and sad during his final days. Earlier this month, he sued Tweedy for back royalties from his Wilco days. In late April, in a detailed post on his myspace page, he wrote that he was facing hip replacement surgery without insurance.

That Tweedy and Bennett were not on the best of terms isn’t a huge surprise. The 2002 Wilco film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart chronicled the deterioration of their professional relationship. This weekend, Wilco’s website simply has the message “Jay Bennett R.I.P.” sitting without fanfare in the upper right hand corner of its home page.

For those unfamiliar with Bennett’s music but are looking for an introduction, we offer these three recommendations.

+ Give a listen to Bennett’s newest album, Whatever Happened I Apologize. It is available for a free, legal download here.

+ Give a listen to Wilco’s 1996 album Being There, a two disc recording that began the transformation of the band from an alt-country troupe to an inventive pop enterprise. It remains the best of Wilco’s early recordings.

+ Take at look at this YouTube video of Tweedy and Bennett in happier days performing a Being There tune, Misunderstood, which still figures prominently in the band’s concerts today. That’s Bennett with Tweedy at the beginning. He plays keyboards during the performance.

in performance: lil' ed and the blues imperials

lil' ed williams.

lil' ed williams. photo by andy lyons.

There were at least two times last night near the conclusion of the Red Mile Blues Festival when the wiry electric rampages of Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials sounded like the second coming of Elmore James.

You heard the spirit the of late blues giant in the scorched slide guitar runs of West Side Chicago native Lil’ Ed Williams. James was also heavily represented in the almost spiritual joy of Williams’ singing as well as in the sweaty, muscular grooves of the Blues Imperials. But the band also seemed to channel the houserocking gusto of such master blues movers as Hound Dog Taylor and Williams’ esteemed  uncle, J.B. Hutto.

This isn’t to say that during the course of their two hour set that Williams and his bandmates merely imitated those inspirations. Hardly. The latter of the two tunes in question, which very closely approximated the James-ian staple Dust My Broom during its intro, veered off to become a fearsome cover of Percy Mayfield’s You Don’t Exist No More that eventually summoned a playful defiance the Blues Imperials could proudly call their own.

The spot-checking of influences within Williams’music didn’t stop there. The syncopated groove to Housekeeping Job sounded as though it has been shipped overseas and given a coat of Peter Green-style Brit blues. Later, during Woman, Take a Bow, the guitar inflections suggested Carlos Santana while the tune circulated around a hook that sounded – improbable as this might seem – like a light funk interpretation of the 1973 Edgar Winter instrumental hit Frankenstein.

But it was the James, Hutto and Taylor inspirations that really fueled the Blues Imperials last night. Those were strong allies to have – and ones that Williams did proud by. When the performance leaned heavily into the fat electric cheer of those elders, as during the sly blues shuffles Pride and Joy (not the Stevie Ray Vaughan tune of the same name) and Take Out Some Insurance or the densely patterned grind of Hold That Train, the Blues Imperials summoned a roaring juke joint fire. The music sounded like the work of an honest-to-goodness blues band instead of the usual tired blues outfit siphoning rock ‘n roll for the cheap, accessible thrill.

What impressed most, though, was how keen, clean and mean the several slow tunes were that Williams peppered throughout the show. In these instances, the band hushed the volume and even the tone of the music, but not the intensity. Even the semi-novelty tune Check My Baby’s Oil, with all its cheesy lyrical innuendo, was anything but a joke. It was a serving of sleek, underplayed slow blues with a pretty high danger factor.

And in the great outdoors on a gorgeous Sunday night of a holiday weekend, having serious Chicago blues served with some playful menace sounded very sweet indeed.

Future of IT: Turbulent Times Ahead; A look at the trends IT executives expect in strategy, management, security and technology.

CioInsight December 1, 2007 | Alter, Allan Security requires eternal vigilance, regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley demand attention and pop-tech culture–think Facebook, Google, iPhone–serves as a public R&D lab. But CIOs have three long-term and never-ending agendas: The now-dominant improvement agenda concentrates on building better processes and services. The innovation agenda aims at creating high-potential technologies and ways to use them. But when the economic outlook becomes stormier or new technologies present a fresh chance to save money, the third agenda–the cost-reduction agenda–rises like a flooding creek. website google iphone app

That’s what will happen in 2008. Uncertain at best, stormy at worst, the economy will pressure large companies in particular to reduce IT and other costs. Organizations will exploit their recent investments in the Internet, services-based architectures and data analysis to improve services and processes, but how aggressively depends on how much the economy and the availability of IT talent in the U.S. and abroad shuts down the pipeline. in our site google iphone app

CIO Insight surveyed more than 250 IT executives on their expectations for 2008. What follows is a summary of 20 trends for the coming year and beyond. It combines new CIO Insight research with important findings from studies conducted in the past 12 months.

Also in this feature:

Top Strategy Trends Top Management Trends Top Security Trends Top Technology Trends Alter, Allan

summer album of the week: 05-23-09

Welcome to a new feature we’re planning for every Saturday here at The Musical Box from now until Labor Day weekend. It’s called simply the Summer Album of the Week – a chance to briefly celebrate a great pop/rock recording released during the summers of yore, be it last year or decades ago.

Our entries each week will reflect an album released during the corresponding month – meaning records issued in May will be written about in May and so on. But after that, we toss chronology out the window. We might feature a 2002 album one week and a gem from 1966 the next. It’s all intended to simply expand the notion of what is commonly viewed as “summer music” and recall (and maybe even re-introduce) sounds that helped fuel the fun in the sun of summers past.

We lead off with a beaut:

roxy music: avalon (released may 1982)

roxy music: avalon (released may 1982)

From its cover art work of some Nordic lord surveying an inverted horizon (clouds are the ocean, the ocean is the sky) to the gorgeous dark elegance of its immensely rhythmc tunes, Avalon is where British art rock fave Roxy Music grew up. All of its trademark sounds are still there: Phil Manzanera’s chiming guitar, Andy MacKay’s woodwind punctuations and, of course, the hapless crooning of Bryan Ferry. But add discreet keyboard and percussion orchestration along with a landmark mix by Bob Clearmountain that makes Roxy sound royal and you have a true vanguard record. When faced with the daunting task of a producing followup to Avalon, Ferry and Roxy did what any honestly discerning pop troupe band would do. They broke up.

Boy gets replacement valve without open-heart surgery: Device lets 16- year-old breathe deeply again: ‘This is the future’

Chicago Sun-Times December 16, 2005 | Jim Ritter Sixteen-year-old Justin Reaves’ diseased heart left him so out of breath that just talking made him tired.

Justin needed a new heart valve. But he wasn’t a candidate for open heart surgery because previous heart operations had created too much scar tissue.

Using a remarkable experimental device, a University of Chicago doctor this week placed a quarter-size replacement valve in Justin’s heart without doing open heart surgery. go to website open heart surgery

The procedure was similar to balloon angioplasties commonly used to open clogged arteries. The replacement valve was compressed on the tip of a pencil-thin catheter. Dr. Ziyad Hijazi inserted the catheter in Justin’s groin and threaded it through blood vessels into his heart. Once the valve was in the proper position, a tiny balloon inflated it to the size of a quarter, and it wedged in place.

Justin woke up minutes after the three-hour procedure Tuesday, able to take deep breaths. On Wednesday, Justin was released from Comer Children’s Hospital, and he headed back to the family farm in South Dakota.

“He’s much better now,” Hijazi said.

Each year, more than 100,000 Americans undergo open heart surgery to repair leaky aortic valves. A healthy valve consists of three flaps. When open, the valve allows blood to flow from the heart to the body. When shut, the valve prevents blood from flowing back to the heart.

Open heart surgery typically requires seven to 10 days in the hospital, followed by six to eight weeks of recovery.

As many as 1 million patients a year could benefit from aortic valve replacements, but most are too sick for open heart surgery, Hijazi said.

The new heart valve is made by Edwards Lifesciences of Irvine, Calif. The company has tested the device on about 75 patients, mostly in Europe, and has begun a study in the United States. The company hopes to receive approval in the European Union as early as 2007 and the United States in three or four years. openheartsurgerynow.net open heart surgery

The company wants to use the device as a replacement aortic valve. But Justin’s problem was in his pulmonary valve, which regulates blood flow from the heart to the lungs.

Under its “compassionate use” provision, the U.S. Food and Drug provision allowed Hijazi to use the device for the first time as a replacement pulmonary valve.

Edwards Lifesciences hasn’t decided whether it will seek approval to use the device for pulmonary valve replacements, which are much less common than aortic valve replacements.

Installing the new valve is a “very high-skilled procedure,” Hijazi said.

However, the skill can be taught. “This is the future,” Hijazi said. But “it will take time to perfect the technology and make it available.” jritter@suntimes.com Jim Ritter

lil’ ed’s big blues

lil' ed and the blues imperials.

lil' ed and the blues imperials: bassist james "pookie" young, guitarist michael garrett, guitarist/vocalist lil' ed williams, drummer kelly littleton. photo by ed natkin.

There is probably no happier a bluesman on the planet than Lil’ Ed Williams.

You can tell that just looking at the cover of his 2008 album Full Tilt, where the champion Chicago slide guitarist, dressed in red right down to his sneakers, is caught in mid-leap with a smile planted on his face as electric as the reconstituted roadhouse music that has long fueled his career.

Slip on the CD and the grooves all but grin at you. His siren-like slide runs lock horns with the sweaty propulsion of his band, the Blues Imperials, on the album-opening original Hold That Train while the closing take on Hound Dog Taylor’s Take Five is juiced up juke joint party music. Adding to the fun on both songs, as well to the 12 feisty tunes they bookend on Full Tilt, are vocals that shout jubilation at every turn.

This, then, is the blues? It is according to Williams. He may possess a prestigious blues pedigree as the nephew of the great Chicago bluesman, J.B. Hutto. And there isn’t an instance on Full Tilt that fails to reflect the soul drenched depth of his singing and playing. It’s just that Williams doesn’t accept the blues as some kind of a self-pitying whimper. In his hands, the blues is as an affirmation of life’s joys and the sometimes unexpected places you may discover them.

“I define the blues as a feeling of the heart, of the mind and of the soul,” said Williams, who headlines Sunday’s inaugural Red Mile Blues Festival. “It’s a view of life – of learning, of experience.

“If people feel bad, the blues lets them know that feeling is not going to last forever. I think that’s what people like about the blues. They know the music might say, ‘I got this bad, bad feeling, but tomorrow I’m going to wake up happy.’ People want to hear that in their lives. I know I do. That’s the stuff that keeps you going.”

As nephew to Hutto, Williams had more than just an acclaimed slide guitar inspiration within his family. He had a role model willing to prepare him for life on and off the bandstand.

“J.B. put me where I am today,” Williams said. “He told me about what I was going to go through in my career before I ever went through it. He told me what to expect. I remember him saying, ‘You ain’t ever going to get rich playing the blues. Did you ever think about that?’ Of course, I was running around thinking I was going to be a millionaire.

“But he would also tell me, ‘Your fans are your most important people. Don’t you ever treat a fan wrong. If you hang around people, you’ve got to treat them with respect.’ Man, that just lit me up.”

Forming a band with his bass playing half brother James “Pookie” Young, Williams was signed by Chicago’s premier blues label, Alligator Records, in 1986. He has been making albums that generously recall the bright, rocking blues of Hutto and Taylor ever since.

But those early Alligator days were also important for the artists that Williams found himself keeping company with – greats like Koko Taylor, Hound Dog Taylor, Lonnie Brooks and the late Albert Collins. For Williams, nothing could have been closer to graduate blues school that playing alongside the Alligator elders.

“It’s always been fun working with them. I got to know Lonnie Brooks and his son (the equally acclaimed guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks). We hit it off. Same with Albert Collins. He was a great buddy of mine. It was just the greatest feeling to be around the really big boys.”

Williams hardly views himself as a blues scholar today. After seven Alligator albums in twelve years, he says he still has lots to learn from the blues. But regardless of how versed his music becomes, it’s hard to imagine anything dampening Williams’ love of performance – or of life itself, for that matter.

“When I was growing up, I would always say to my friends, ‘Hey, let’s go play some music.’ And they knew I was into the blues, even back then. So they would go, ‘Man, you’re going to playing them blues. We’re all going to be crying. We’re all going to be miserable.’ But then I started playing and everybody starts dancing.

“See, that’s the thing. The blues is fun. The blues is happiness. Believe me, you can have the blues and still have fun.

The Lexington Blues Festival featuring Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials begins at 1 p.m. May 24 at  Red Mile Paddock Park, 1200 Red Mile Rd. Admission: $10. Call (859) 509-3337.

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