Lil Ed & The Blues Imperials
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LIL' ED & THE BLUES IMPERIALS AND SELWYN BIRCHWOOD TICKETS ON SALE NOW
Gold Seated GA Tickets - $30
Seated GA Tickets - $20
Bar Area GA Tickets - $15
For any wheelchair or ADA needs, please contact the Box Office in advance of the performance at (202)-769-0122.
All tickets are general admission (GA). Seats cannot be reserved in advance. We recommend that guests arrive early to secure their favorite seats within their section.
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LIL ED & THE BLUES IMPERIALS
In Chicago, a city overflowing with unrivaled blues talent, world-renowned Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials have been standing tall for almost 30 years. The band’s big sound, fueled by Lil’ Ed’s gloriously rollicking slide work and deep blues string bending, along with his rough-edged, soulful vocals, is as real and hard-hitting as Chicago blues gets. The Chicago Sun-Times says, “Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials are the hottest purveyors of bottleneck boogie to come out of Chicago since Hound Dog Taylor.”
Lil’ Ed Williams comes to the blues naturally. His uncle, Chicago slide guitar king and master songwriter J.B. Hutto, taught him how to feel, not just play the blues. Nine albums and thousands of performances later, Lil’ Ed is now universally hailed as a giant of the genre. Lil’ Ed and The Blues Imperials—bassist (and Ed’s half-brother) James “Pookie” Young, guitarist Mike Garrett and drummer Kelly Littleton—have remained together for nearly 30 years (an extraordinary feat for any group), the band fueling Ed’s songs with their rock-solid, road-tested, telepathic musicianship.
The Big Sound Of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials is the musically electrifying, emotionally intense and downright fun new album from the band Guitar Player calls “a snarling boogie-blues machine…they blow down the walls.” The CD features Lil’ Ed’s incendiary playing and playful, passionate singing, with the ragged-but-right Blues Imperials cooking like mad alongside him. Produced by Williams and Alligator president Bruce Iglauer, it is a tour-de-force of authentic, deeply rooted Chicago blues. Williams wrote or co-wrote all but two of album’s 14 songs, the other gems written by Uncle J.B. The Chicago Reader says the band’s music “is a soundtrack for dancing and celebration infused with a sense of hard-won survival. Williams attacks his lyrics like he attacks his guitar: with bare-bones intensity that makes each word sound like a matter of life or death.”
Born in Chicago on April 8, 1955, in the heart of Chicago’s tough West Side, Ed grew up surrounded by music. He was playing guitar, then drums and bass, by the time he was 12. Ed and Pookie received lessons and support from their famous uncle. “J.B. taught me everything I know,” says Ed. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.” Ed and Pookie spent their teen years making music together, and in 1975 formed the first incarnation of The Blues Imperials. They played their first gig at a West Side club called Big Duke’s Blue Flame, splitting the $6 take four ways. Over the next few years, the group played every club in the neighborhood. Even so, they still needed day jobs to pay the bills. Ed worked ten hours a day as a buffer at the Red Carpet Car Wash. Pookie drove a school bus. Night after night they played their roaring brand of blues in tiny clubs, and eventually the word reached Alligator president Bruce Iglauer.
At the time, Iglauer was looking for local talent for The New Bluebloods, an anthology of some of Chicago’s younger blues musicians. “Ed and his band had a good reputation,” recalls Iglauer. “I had only seen them live once or twice. I knew Ed was a hot slide player, but I had no idea what he and the band were really capable of. I just knew that their music reminded me of Hound Dog Taylor and J.B. Hutto, two of my favorite musicians. It seemed like having a band this rough and ready would be a nice change of pace for the anthology, so I asked them to come down to the studio and cut a couple of songs. I never expected what happened.”
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 national press reacted with amazement to the blues world’s new discovery. Feature stories ran in Spin, Musician, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune and dozens of other publications. The Village Voice declared, “Roughhousin’ just may be the blues album of the year.” The New York Times raved, “Raw-boned, old-fashioned Chicago blues has a new young master—Lil’ Ed Williams.”
But it wasn’t until 1987, when guitarist Mike Garrett joined the band, and a year later, when Garrett recruited his Detroit hometown friend Kelly Littleton to play drums, that things really began to take off. Garrett’s risk-taking rhythm guitar work and Littleton’s unpredictable, old school drumming were the perfect complement to Lil’ Ed’s and Pookie’s rambunctious playing. With their 1989 album Chicken, Gravy & Biscuits, doors opened and audiences poured in. Through relentless touring, the group crystallized, becoming tighter with each performance, more adept in their abilities to read each other’s musical moves. Their spontaneous and unpredictable live show became legendary among blues fans worldwide.
They have played the Chicago Blues Festival multiple times, and have appeared at The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival, The Tampa Bay Blues Festival, The San Diego Blues Festival, The Pennsylvania Blues Festival and dozens of other festivals around the country. Satisfying worldwide demand, they have performed at festivals in Canada, Great Britain, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Japan, Australia, India, Turkey and Panama.
Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials released eight Alligator albums between 1986 and 2012. With each one, the band’s national and international stature grew as their fan base—known internationally as “Ed Heads”—continued to expand. With 2006’s Rattleshake, Ed and company reached a whole new audience. Die-hard “Ed Head” Conan O’Brien brought the band before millions of television viewers on two separate occasions. Success and accolades never stop pouring in. Living Blues called 2012’s Jump Start “scorching and soulful” with “crafty, clever lyrics…joyous and stomping.”
The group took home the Living Blues Award for Best Live Performer in 2011, 2012 and 2013. They won the prestigious Blues Music Award for Band Of The Year in both 2007 and 2009. The Associated Press says, “Williams fills Chicago’s biggest shoes with more life and heat than anyone on stage today.”
With The Big Sound Of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, the band continues to bring their blistering Chicago blues to “Ed Heads” new and old. Their infectious energy, joyful showmanship and masterful playing have been honed to a razor’s edge by their many years together. Lil’ Ed, Pookie, Mike and Kelly have seen sports stars and presidents, musical fads and fashion trends come and go. Meanwhile, their fiery music has more than stood the test of time. “We’re not band members,” says Williams, “we’re family, and families stay together.” Night after night, gig after riotous gig, the musical family called Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials bring their big, dynamic Chicago blues sound to fans across the country and around the world.
With his fiery guitar and lap steel playing, his trailblazing, instantly memorable songs and gritty, unvarnished vocals, Selwyn Birchwood is among the most extraordinary young stars in the blues. His deep familiarity with blues tradition allows him to bust the genre wide open, adding new sounds, colors and textures, all delivered with a revival tent preacher’s fervor and a natural storyteller’s charisma. Since the 2014 release of his Alligator Records debut, Don’t Call No Ambulance, Birchwood’s meteoric rise from playing small Florida clubs to headlining international festival stages is nothing short of phenomenal, as he continues to set the contemporary blues world on fire. The album received the Blues Music Award and Living Blues Critics’ Award for Best Debut Album Of 2014, and he won the 2015 Blues Blast Rising Star Award. Selwyn and his band have crisscrossed the U.S. and Europe repeatedly, delivering unforgettable live performances. With his new album, Pick Your Poison, Birchwood, along with his band—saxophonist Regi Oliver, bassist Huff Wright and drummer Courtney “Big Love” Girlie—takes a major step forward, crafting visionary blues for a new generation of forward-looking fans.
Birchwood, who attacks his guitar and lap steel with searing intensity, wrote and produced all 13 songs on Pick Your Poison. His richly detailed, hard-hitting originals run the emotional gamut from the humorously personal My Whiskey Loves My Ex to the gospel-inflected Even The Saved Need Saving to the hard truths of the topical Corporate Drone and Police State to the existential choice of the title track. The cutting-edge songs are made all the more impactful by Birchwood’s gruff vocals, his untamed musicianship and his band’s seemingly telepathic accompaniment. “I write and sing what I know,” says Birchwood, whose innovations are as expansive as his influences. “This album has a broad reach. It’s for young, old and everyone in between.”
According to Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer, who signed Birchwood to the label shortly after the bluesman won the 2013 International Blues Challenge and also the Albert King Guitarist Of The Year Award at the same event, “Selwyn writes smart, infectious, fresh songs and delivers them with a warm, conversational vocal style and a fun-loving attitude. He’s a killer guitarist, switching between a regular six-string and lap steel. Live, he’s a ball of energy, interacting with the audience like they were in his living room.”
Birchwood’s high-octane blues—at once deeply rooted, funky and up-to-the-minute—are played with passion and honest emotion. With his band feeding off his drive and exuberance, the striking 6’3” young man with his trademark Afro roams the stage (often barefoot), ripping out memorable guitar licks with ease, his soulful, rocks-and-gravel vocals firing up the crowd. His ability to win over an audience—any audience—is proven night after night on the bandstand. With his warm, magnetic personality, Birchwood is as down-to-earth as his music is fun, thought-provoking and vital. His mission is to spread his music far and wide, to share his joy, to play his heart out, and to push the blues into the future. “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than playing the blues,” he says. “And I try to convey that with every song and with every performance.”
Birchwood, his father from Tobago, his mother from the UK, was born in 1985 in Orlando, Florida. He first grabbed a guitar at age 13 and soon became proficient at mimicking what he heard on the radio. But the popular grunge rock, hip-hop and metal of the 1990s didn’t move him, and he quickly grew bored. And then he heard Jimi Hendrix. “He was larger than life. What he did was mind-blowing. When I realized Hendrix was influenced by the blues, I found my path,” he says. By 17, he was deep into the blues, listening to Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins and especially Buddy Guy. As luck would have it, just as Birchwood was discovering Guy, the blues master had a concert scheduled in Orlando. Birchwood was there, front and center. “I was floored,” he recalls. “I completely connected with the blues. I knew I had to make this music.”
As Selwyn’s guitar proficiency grew, a friend told him that his neighbor was a blues guitarist and had a band. The 19-year-old Selwyn went over to check it out and jam. The guitar-playing neighbor turned out to be the Texas-born blues legend Sonny Rhodes, who was instantly impressed with the enthusiastic young guitar slinger. Within one month’s time, Rhodes asked Birchwood to pack his bags and join him on the road. It was an incredible experience for Birchwood, as Rhodes took the young man under his wing, teaching him not only guitar and lap steel, but also how to conduct business, how to run a band, and how to reach an audience. “Sonny always said, ‘Play what’s in your heart.’ I’ve never lost sight of that,” says Birchwood.
Rhodes insisted Birchwood go to college and always held the guitar spot in his band open for Selwyn whenever he was available. It was a win-win situation, as Birchwood—through hard work and scholarships—received his MBA from The University of Tampa. “I challenged myself to get that degree,” Birchwood says. “These days, it’s not good enough to just be a good player.” Combining the musical lessons learned from Rhodes and his business acumen, Birchwood created The Selwyn Birchwood Band in 2010, featuring veteran musicians older than Selwyn, testifying to Selwyn’s musical chops and his leadership skills. On stage, they play off each other with ease, feeding off each other’s energy, sharing the fun with the audience.
In 2011 the self-released FL Boy helped the band land gigs outside of their Tampa base, where they were becoming local heroes. Birchwood and his band won their way to spots at the 2012 and 2013 International Blues Challenges in Memphis. After taking ninth place in 2012, they came back determined the next year, taking first place. Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer was sitting at the judges’ table at the time. “I saw Selwyn’s potential in 2012. He absolutely deserved to win in 2013,” he says. The victory opened more doors for Birchwood, increased his exposure and helped the band land a deal with Intrepid Artists booking agency, which led to more and better gigs.
With his 2014 Alligator Records debut album, Don’t Call No Ambulance, Selwyn Birchwood announced his arrival on the international blues stage. The album is a fully realized vision of contemporary blues. Between his uninhibited sense of fun and adventure and his serious-as-a-heart-attack musicianship, Don’t Call No Ambulance opened a door into a bright future for the blues. Rave reviews ran in publications from Rolling Stone to The Wall Street Journal, from The Chicago Tribune to The San Francisco Chronicle.
The Selwyn Birchwood Band has been touring non-stop since before the Alligator debut came out. The band has performed at festivals including The Chicago Blues Festival, The Waterfront Blues Festival, The Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, The Tampa Bay Blues Festival, The North Atlantic Blues Festival, The King Biscuit Blues Festival as well as on The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise and Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping The Blues Alive Cruise. Internationally, they have performed at The Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival, Jazz a Vienne in France, the Rawa Blues Festival in Poland, the Moulin Blues Festival in The Netherlands, the Ottawa Blues Festival in Canada, as well as performing in Spain, Switzerland, Norway, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Belgium and Mexico.
Birchwood has opened for major blues stars including Robert Cray and Buddy Guy and has shared the stage with another friend and teacher, Joe Louis Walker. Not long ago, Selwyn had the opportunity, when performing in San Francisco, to bring his friend and mentor Sonny Rhodes on stage to sit in with his band. It was a moment Birchwood will never forget. “He did so much for me; it was a real honor to return the favor.”
With Pick Your Poison’s urgent, uncompromising music, Selwyn Birchwood is forging new directions for the blues. The Washington Post calls him a “tough, indelibly modern next generation bluesman.” The Wall Street Journal says he is “fiery and original.” The hard-hitting, cutting-edge songs on Pick Your Poison, along with his incendiary live performances, prove without a doubt his status as the blues’ most sensational young talent.
The Hamilton Live
600 14th St NW
Washington, DC, 20005