Longtime Chicago blues fans might remember Alex "Easy Baby" Randle from the Rat Trap at Cermak and Keeler, where he led a raucous house band in the 70s. Randle had been working regularly in Chicago--playing harmonica and drums on the south and west sides--since the late 50s, shortly after he moved here from his native Memphis. As the scene contracted during the 60s and 70s, he soldiered on in joints like Kim's Lounge (at Oak and Franklin) and the Rat Trap, where producer Steve Wisner first heard him in the mid-70s. Randle recorded a few tracks with Wisner, which eventually appeared on harp anthologies on Barrelhouse and Rooster Blues; in 1978 he released an LP of his own, Sweet Home Chicago Blues, on Barrelhouse (another full-length, Hot Water Cornbread and Alcohol, recorded for St. George in the late 90s, was never released). In recent years Randle has appeared only sporadically, and mostly on the north side--his brand of down-home blues is out of fashion around his old stomping grounds--but with his latest disc, If It Ain't One Thing, It's Another (on the internationally distributed Wolf label), he's poised to reach a much broader audience. Randle's tubular harmonica tone is reminiscent of Little Walter's, but instead of mimicking Walter's long, saxlike lines, he tends to make brief, epigrammatic statements and then let silence fill out each phrase--like call and response without the response. Only on Howlin' Wolf's "Howlin' for My Darlin'" does he abandon this precise, minimalist style, instead searing through the heart of the tune with a relentless, linear solo that reflects the obsessiveness of the lyrics. He's a passionate singer, too: he delivers Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" in a libidinous rasp, and on his theme song, "Call Me Easy Baby," his scream tightens into a choked gargle, then dissolves into a tremulous sigh--which his harp answers with an equally lusty series of polyphonic shrieks, whoops, and squalls. Saturday, January 19, 10 PM, Smoke Daddy, 1804 W. Division; 773-772-6656.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.