Written by Jim Bille
May 01, 2009 at 08:00 PM
ImageThe Merdian hit a home run for blues fans starving for the real deal last Saturday night when they brought in Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials. These guys used to be Houston regulars back in the day of the Bon Ton Room and Club Hey Hey but since the demise of these two classic Houston clubs, premium bands like Lil’ Ed’s usually don’t make it this far south too much anymore. The last time they were here was for a show at the now defunct Billy Blues a number of years ago. The Meridian might be taking up some of the slack by booking nationally known blues acts like this one and last weeks appearance by west cost bluesman Roy Rogers.

The club opened up the Red Room for this show which was converted into a more intimate setting with tables and chairs making it a perfect venue for the not so crowded house. Houston based Sandra Hickey opened the show with her powerful vocals backed up by her band Brother to Brother. This was a pretty good warm up for things to come.

Together now for more than 20 years, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials have come a long way since Ed’s days of working in a carwash in Chicago. The nephew of Chicago Blues great JB Hutto, Lil’ Ed Williams was exposed to the Chicago blues sound at an early age, Hutto, who Williams credits as his musical mentor, was the driving influence behind what we now know as that famous Lil’ Ed slide guitar style. Along with his rough edged killer slide work, Williams takes on kind of a wild man persona while performing. Back bending and tip toeing through the delighted crowd like he did on Saturday night is what you can expect to see at one of their shows.

Backed up by guitarist Mike Garrett, bassist James “Pookie” Young and drummer Kelly Littleton, Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials invoke and almost channel the old style Chicago masters sound of Hound Dog Taylor, Elmore James and of course JB Hutto.

Leaning heavily on their latest Alligator release ‘Full Tilt’, the Blues Imperials treated the crowd with what I believe was the complete album. The set was full of in your face Lil’ Ed slide work that is the trademark of the band. Songs featured from ‘Full Tilt’ included ‘Woman Take a Bow’, My Baby Moves Me’, ‘Open Invitation’ and a hard blues rocking number called ‘Hold That Train’. The 1965 Motown hit, ‘First I Look at the Purse’, originally recorded by the Contours, was about the most unfamiliar song anyone could pick to perform but the Blues Imperials managed to rescue the tune from obscurity and played it to the hilt.

To say these guys really enjoy their work would be an understatement. Their on-stage and off-stage demeanor was full of laughs and good times as each Imperial spent their entire break hanging out with the fans and having a good time. Lil’ Ed describes his music as “happy blues”. He and the Blues Imperials were just that Saturday night. Happy, and so were the fans.