Special/Signature Issues » Richmond Folk Festival

Lil' Ed and the Imperials

Little Boy Blues

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Ask Lil' Ed to sum up his music in a word and he replies, “Boogie!”

A master of smoldering slides and furious licks, the 55-year-old bluesman speaks with unwavering passion when it comes to his craft and a love of shimmery stringed things. “I like a shiny guitar, something that looks good to the eye,” Williams says. “It's just like a woman,” he adds, with a gutsy laugh.

Nephew of renowned Chicago slide guitarist J.B. Hutto, Ed Williams was playing guitar, drums and bass by the age of 12 thanks to the mentorship of his uncle. His teenage years found him joining forces with his half-brother, Pookie Young, and forming the first incarnation of his current band, the Blues Imperials. “We were gonna call ourselves the Little Hawks after my uncle's band, the Hawks,” he says. “Then we decided to go with something different. As the leader of this band, I wanted to have a name and Lil' Ed was the best description of me because I'm little.”

While the diminutive guy had a big sound, things didn't take off for some time.  The band's first gig made them a whopping $6 and two bottles of beer that had to be split between four bandmates; it confirmed that life as a blues player would be full of hard knocks, including a brief breakup of the band and Williams' own drug and alcohol addictions. With more than 25 years of camaraderie and all obstacles surmounted, the fez-topped fireball and his Imperials continue to fire up audiences with electrifying shows and high-octane antics.

“You might see me jump around a little bit and act a fool, too. That's what I do,” Lil' Ed says when asked what people will see during his set, “Expect to have some fun with the boogie-woogie blues!”

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