Friday, September 7, 2012

Pride and Joy -- Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials

I moved to San Diego in November 1992.  Having lived in Minnesota for all my life at that point, I really had no idea what to expect.  It seemed like a cultured place and I figured it would have a similar social scene as Minneapolis.  I was wrong in regards to one thing.  San Diego did not have a great blues scene.   Little did I know how well I had it back in the Midwest.

First off, it was hard to find a blues band at all.  There were a couple places downtown, but the talent level wasn’t quite the same.  I had been spoiled.  Chicago blues greats from the Alligator label would come up to Minneapolis all the time.  Albert Collins, James Cotton, Junior Wells, Willie Dixon and so on.  A lot of that blues culture from Chicago rubbed off on the rest of the Midwest.  The Twin Cities, Milwaukee, Fargo and Omaha all developed great blues scenes.

So anyway, in San Diego I was left yearning for the way things used to be.  Then one day I saw that Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials were coming to town.  Color me there!  I’m going even if I have to go by myself.  

And that’s exactly what happened.  My two new So Cal roommates weren’t aware of the blues music genre at all, so they weren’t very willing companions on that night.  Since I didn’t know anyone else, I had no choice but to go alone.  

It struck me as odd for some reason that the bar was in the middle of a strip mall.  That threw me off right away.   Regardless, I went inside and there was no energy in the place at all.  It was strangely quiet.  People were sitting in folding chairs right in front of the stage.  They all sat there motionless observing Lil’ Ed as though he was some anthropological case study.

Another thing seemed wrong.  I stopped the waitress and asked, “Is this a non-smoking establishment?”  She proudly smiled and said, “Yes.”  Now understand that this was before the Clean Indoor Air Act.  You could still smoke in bars and you could expect a lot of smoking at the blues shows where I came from.  Worse of all, it appeared as though I might have been the only person drinking in the place.

I was very disappointed.  I came to see Lil’ Ed rock the house.  I expected to see some cool people getting a buzz on and having some fun.  It was the furthest thing from that.  I decided to leave.

Now let’s go back in time to another Lil’ Ed event back home in Minneapolis.

It was in the middle of winter.  It was an unusually cold day even for Minneapolis.  It was at least 20 below zero.  I had just come back from Williams Arena having watched my beloved Minnesota Gopher basketball team lose at home to the hated Bobby Knight and Indiana.  They spanked us and the vibe leaving the game was bad.  

“Something needs to break our way” was what my friend Jerry and I were thinking.  It so happened that Lil’ Ed was playing at The Fine Line, a club in downtown Minneapolis.  The routine when bar hopping on a 20-below day was to, believe it or not, leave the coats in the car.  You didn’t want to go into a crowded bar with a coat on because then you would get hotter than hell.  So we left the coats and sprinted a couple blocks from the car to the bar before the sub-zero temperatures turned our blood into slush.

My buddy Jerry and I flew through the door and into the nice warm club.  The crowd was still a little small but building up.  Lil’ Ed started off mellow and built up momentum.  Jerry and I bumped into a couple of friends of his, Jack and Mike.  They were totally into the blues and into drinking too so we hit it off right away.

Before long, the frigid Minnesota night turned into a house rockin’ furnace.  Lil’ Ed and the band cut loose.  People were wasted, dancing and puffing on cigarettes.  Lil’ Ed connected a long guitar chord and roamed out into the crowd wailing on his slide guitar.   He came right over to our fearsome foursome, got down on is knees, laid back and started wailing away while we screamed “Yeah!!”  in his face.  It was a jam that totally brought the house down.

So you tell me.  Which show do you think was better?

Here’s a nugget from Lil’ Ed himself--playing it the Blues the way it was meant to be played.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Chris...I love it! I remember that nite, what a blast! The harder we screamed "YEAH" the harder he played! What a great place to listen to the blues or any music for that matter...the cold also made it just that much more fun. It kind of made you feel like you were in on something special with a few other lucky bastards that braved the if the music gods had smiled down upon us with approval in the form cold libations, smoke'n hot blues and plenty of cigarettes! Yep...I miss those days, thanks for blow'n the dust off of that one.