California’s William Clarke has become one of the most rapidly rising stars in the new generation of blues musicians. He perfected his shimmering, wide-chorded harp playing studying with the late Harmonica George Smith, and Smith’s distinctive eclecticism is evident everywhere in Clarke’s approach: on a straight-ahead shuffle he bends notes with the raucous abandon of a Chicago juker; on an easy-swinging California lope he warbles sweetly above his band’s jump-blues backing, placing notes into the empty spaces they leave open for him with a precision you’d expect from an improviser many years his senior. It’s possible Clarke and his crew are a bit too slavishly dedicated to the classic styles for most people; I can listen to this stuff all night, and there’s a core of fans who seem to agree with me. But as he gets bigger, the pressure will probably increase to bring more mainstream listeners into the fold. So it might be advisable to catch him now if you want to hear some of the most honest, unpretentious blues being laid down by a young band today. Saturday, Rosa’s, 3420 W. Armitage; 342-0452.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.