Eddie Shaw & the Wolf Gang | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Eddie Shaw & the Wolf Gang


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Saxophonist Eddie Shaw moved to Chicago in the late 50s to play in Muddy Waters's band, and in the years that followed he worked with Freddie King, Otis Rush, and Magic Sam, among others--he appears on Sam's LP Black Magic, recorded in 1968. But Shaw's connection with Howlin' Wolf has earned him his most lasting fame: from 1972 until Wolf's death in '76 he was the big man's bandleader, and he's kept the group going steadily ever since, billing it as the Wolf Gang. Shaw's playing has gained some subtlety over the years, but at heart he's still a juke-joint horn man from Greenville, Mississippi: he'll corner a riff and beat it into submission, peppering his full-bore bellows with yakety-yak sax chatter. His son Vaan, on guitar, tends to kick off his solos in overdrive and crank them up from there, leaving so few pauses in his skittering spirals of notes that he seems like a tightrope walker who's trying not to look down--but to match those flying fingers he has a melodic imagination as nimble as quicksilver. On the Wolf Gang's most recent disc, last year's Live! at the Time Out Pub, the elder Shaw sometimes gets so absorbed in one of his sax onslaughts that he seems to forget there's a song going on. But at his best--on his cover of the Little Milton hit "Your Wife Is Cheating on Us," for instance--his shrieks and squawks season instead of smother his burnished soloing, and he pulls off a witty fusion of suave R & B and gutbucket blues funk. Shaw isn't the only one who occasionally lets high energy overtake good sense: on an up-tempo "Howlin' for My Darling," bassist Shorty Gilbert--the only member left who actually played with Wolf, besides the leader--has to struggle to maintain the original version's trademark sixteenth-note pattern, and Vaan's frantic solo creates a tone with little connection to the unrequited desire in the lyrics. But that's not to say the Wolf Gang's enthusiasm is always misplaced. Vaan propels a high-octane "Mustang Sally" with an odd but effective single-string rhythm, and on Muddy Waters's "Rock Me," Shaw's pungent riffs ride the song's raw, undulating cadence like a greased catfish. Sunday, October 29, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333.


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

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