Chick Willis | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Chick Willis


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Georgia bluesman Chick Willis learned his stagecraft in the mid-50s touring with his cousin Chuck Willis--the turbaned "King of the Stroll"--and also shared bills with X-rated comedian Rudy Ray Moore (aka Dolemite). The influence of these early role models is obvious on Willis's raucous 1972 hit, "Stoop Down Baby, Let Your Daddy See," and on subsequent novelties like "Mother Fuyer" and "I Want a Big Fat Woman." But he's also got a serious side, as 2001's I Won't Give Up (Deep South) makes clear. As a guitarist, Willis shows his age, and that's a compliment: in an era of overkill, he remains resolutely focused on the essentials. On ballads, his leads are smoothly contoured and probing; on speedier numbers he gathers his notes into incendiary cluster bombs, and the gaps between the fusillades only enhance their fury. His voice is versatile too--he's got a grits-and-neckbone rasp for his party anthems and a hoarse bedroom murmur for the slow stuff. Willis's picking is fleet and introspective on "In the Mood We're In," a mid-tempo minor-key tune in which he pleads for his woman to affirm his romantic prowess, while "Hattie," a folksy tribute to his mother, vividly evokes country life. There's also plenty of fun here: the jubilant "Spring Time" shows off Willis's rough upper register, and the loping "Hurt Me So" is a dash of vintage blues slapstick ("When you came home this morning / Your hair was messed up and your pantyhose wasn't fittin' you right"). Willis is still a relentless showman: he stalks the stage, engages audience members in bouts of the dozens, and in general sees to it that by the end of the night everybody in the room is as sweaty and revved up as he is. Saturday, February 22, 11 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 745 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333.

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