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Wild Child Butler

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WILD CHILD BUTLER

He's been gigging all over the country since the 1950s, but blues harpist George "Wild Child" Butler hasn't budged an inch from the style he learned growing up in rural Alabama--where, he says, he made his first harmonica out of an old tobacco can half filled with gravel. On last year's Lickin' Gravy (M.C.), a reissue of a 1976 recording previously released on Rooster in '89, Butler's singing swings from a ballsy bull roar to a lecherous gurgle, its rawness tempered only slightly by a throaty vibrato, and his cadences grind like a shake dancer's hips; his lyrics ("I got to lick gravy / Your meat's too high to buy") and titles ("Funky Butt Lover") likewise fall on the far side of discreet. But there's more to this self-proclaimed "swamp-harp king" than dirty backwoods high jinks. He's a dexterous musician, blowing out raucous, serpentine phrases with a tone somewhere between Rice Miller's piercing wail and the saxophonelike honk of Little Walter. And though he can tie a double entendre in knots, he's also capable of tough social commentary ("Crack House Woman," from the 1992 Bullseye Blues disc These Mean Old Blues) and vivid poetic imagery ("Love Like a Butterfly," from the current release). Butler's famously stubborn about playing his own way--he still holds the harp upside down, like he first picked it up--and when the mood strikes him he'll suddenly take off in new rhythmic or melodic directions, giving his sidemen fits. But this raggedness only increases his music's primal power: it's rowdy as a late-license juke joint and greasy as sin. Friday, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. DAVID WHITEIS

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

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