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Courtesy Alligator Records Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials
Courtesy Alligator Records Rick Estrin & The Nightcats
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Some of the best performers and songwriters in modern blues music will hit the stage on Saturday, at the 8th Annual Blue Ridge Blues & BBQ Festival.
Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials and Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, the Mike Lucci Band and the Blue Ridge Blues Society’s 2013 Blues Contest are part of the action, at the Rivers Edge Sports Complex, at Reserve Avenue.
Opening act Lucci is last year’s contest winner.
Lil’ Ed Williams, who is celebrating 28 years with his oft-lauded band, and Estrin, who this year was selected best harmonica player at the Blues Music Awards, continue to put out strong music with great sidemen. Williams returns to Roanoke behind the album “Jump Start,” while Estrin’s band recently released “One Wrong Turn.”
Most bands don’t last 28 months, much less 28 years. But Lil’ Ed Williams and his band have been at it the whole time, with all the original members.
“I’m surprised, myself,” Williams said, laughing deeply, in a recent phone call.
He gives credit to his uncle, the late blues slide guitar master J.B. Hutto, for lessons that allowed Williams to establish such a long-lasting act, not to mention its loyal fan base.
“He knew how to keep the crowd going and paid a lot of attention to crowds — kept things rolling, you know,” Chicago-based Williams said of his Windy City uncle. “A lot of things he told me was, treat my fans right. Don’t get big-headed. If you take care of your fans, they’ll take care of you.
“Same thing about blues musicians. He always told me to treat my band members right. If I did, they would stick with me. That was a true thing, too.”
Williams, his brother (and bassist) James “Pookie” Young, guitarist Mike Garrett and drummer Kelly Littleton return to Roanoke for the first time in five years. Last time, the band played at 202 Market, where during a dynamic drop in the music, the pumping disco upstairs provided an annoying contrast.
Williams laughed as a reporter refreshed his memory.
“In my mind, I’m thinking, what is these people doing?” he said. “I do several clubs like that, where they have the rock ‘n’ roll guys next door. It’s such a turn-off in a way, and a distraction, too ... it kind of cuts the concentration at that point, ’cause you’re thinking to yourself, why am I in this club?”
Those sorts of interruptions faze him, but he works to keep the show going, even having a little fun with it.
“I look down and I catch somebody that’s really into me at that point, and I start making these faces and looking kind of crazy, and they know,” he said. “They’re going, Yeah, he’s hearing that, too!”
Those who come out to the blues festival to for Williams’ set will certainly hear no house music interruption.
Old band, new gig
For more than 30 years, Little Charlie & the Nightcats was a blues institution. But four years ago, co-founder and guitarist “Little” Charlie Baty retired from the northern California act. His old friend and band co-founder Rick Estrin was the last remaining member.
As it turned out, the rhythm section — drummer J. Hanson and bassist/keyboardist Lorenzo Farrell — wanted to keep going. Estrin had to make some adjustments.
“I never had to be a band leader,” Estrin said. “All I did was dream up some songs and clown around on the bandstand. That was my responsibility. Little Charlie was the one who had kind of adult-world skills. So I sort of had to learn how to to that, the work part of playing music ... dealing with the record company, dealing with the booking agency, dealing with the talent buyers, promoters, club owners.
“It was nothing I ever wanted to do, but I found out I could do it.”
The other issue was finding a guitarist who could fill the spot left open by the beloved Baty. Former Charlie Musselwhite sideman Chris “Kid” Anderson turned out to be jsut the guy.
“I knew he was just the kind of nut who could fit in perfect. He’s just a fearless nut” as a player, Estrin said.
Things have worked out well since then, and the band’s latest disc, “One Wrong Turn,” is full of fiery playing, cool chord changes and smart, funny lyrics from Estrin.
“Actually this whole CD was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in the studio,” he said. “Everybody was coming up with ideas. Everybody was contributing.”
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