Jody Williams

Chicago blues guitarist Jody Williams’s return to music after a hiatus of over 30 years has already created an international buzz: in November, after less than six months on the comeback trail, he played a triumphant set at the Blues Estafette festival in the Netherlands. Born in Alabama in 1935, Williams moved to Chicago as a child and began playing local clubs as a teenager, developing a guitar style that balanced sophistication–an ear for melody, an easy, polished swing, and an urgent, string-bending soulfulness reminiscent of B.B. King–with a piercing tone and aggressive juke-joint swagger. In 1954 Howlin’ Wolf hired him to anchor his first Chicago band, a gig that helped Williams get his foot in the door at the Chess studios–where he participated in legendary sessions with, among others, Wolf (“Evil,” “Forty-four”) and Bo Diddley (“Who Do You Love”). His own recordings, though less well-known, were also influential: his 1957 single “Lucky Lou” (Argo), with its length-of-the-fretboard zips and nimble upper-register curlicues, could have been the template for Otis Rush’s canonical “All Your Love (I Miss Loving),” and its flip side, “You May,” featured a series of serpentine leads that Buddy Guy appropriated almost note for note on his 1958 single “Sit and Cry (the Blues).” Williams even sued unsuccessfully for his share of the writer’s credits on Mickey & Sylvia’s 1957 smash, “Love Is Strange,” which he believed was based on one of his trademark riffs. By the late 60s, tired of fattening frogs for snakes, he’d abandoned the blues to pursue a career as an electrical engineer. But last year his wife and an agent coaxed him into making a few local appearances, including a benefit concert for Blues Before Sunrise. When I saw him in November his guitar playing was as passionate and elegant as ever, though his mind sometimes seemed to outrace his fingers. He’s had plenty of time to shake off the rust since then, and here he’ll be accompanied by a group he’s worked with regularly since his return, Scott Dirks’s Chicago Bound Blues Band. This gig is not to be missed: it’s blues history in the making. Friday and Saturday, February 9 and 10, 9:30 PM, Rosa’s Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.