Bassist Willie Kent and his Gents have become well-known throughout Chicago and beyond for their no-nonsense, craftsmanlike approach to blues. Less renowned, but just as entertaining, is Big Mojo Elem. Elem played bass for some of the greats–Freddie King, Luther Allison–but in recent years he’s concentrated increasingly on singing. His high-pitched voice, remindful of the late J.B. Lenoir’s but with a grittier tone, is one of the most powerful in blues: he sometimes lays his microphone down and strolls through the club singing, and you can still hear every word and nuance. When he uncorks his trademark chant of “Ow! Ow! Ow!” or revels in the wry wit of a tune like Lenoir’s protofeminist anthem “Don’t Dog Your Woman,” smiles of delight spread through the room. He’s also refreshing in his choice of material, avoiding cliche and digging deep into Chicago’s rich lode of neglected blues classics. With Kent and the band shuffling steadily behind him, Elem can be expected to put on a savory show. Friday and Saturday, Rosa’s, 3420 W. Armitage; 342-0452.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sara Sipes.