West Side Chicago blues legend Willie Kent rarely travels outside of Chicago since he has regular, well-paying gigs several nights a week without having to live life on the road. Fortunately, Famous Dave's was able to get Willie back in a return engagement after his visit last April. He provided some great Chicago blues delivered by a tight, talented band anchored by Willie with his rich, expressive, powerful vocals and his strong, fluid and sometimes funky bass.
The band started things out with two blues instrumentals, getting the crowd into the show right away with their great ensemble playing, which included Willie's two solid guitar players in veteran Jake Dawson and young guitar slinger Guy King switching lead back and forth. The interplay between Guy's between the single tones sound of Guy's Fender guitar and the warm, fuzzier multi-tone sound of Jake's hollow body Gibson made for a great two-guitar sound. Willie let Guy shine on guitar and vocals for a few covers before stepping up to handle the singing. Guy's searing lead guitar and vocals on "Sky Is Crying" wowed the crowd. Guy has a great voice for the blues: strong, clear, and expressive. Willie's voice on the mid-tempo, hooking blues of "20 Room House" was powerful, deep, and expressive. Often Willie seems to be playing with a heavy frown or serious scowl on his face, yet when he smiles he lights up the room.
Willie is a great showman who keeps the band happy by giving everyone a chance to shine. On "Walking in the Rain" talented Hammond B-3 player Ron Scott filled the room with his great, grinding organ tones. His playing enriched the solid lead of Guy and the soulful vocals of Willie. On the up-tempo "If You Need Me, Call Me" the entire band rocked the blues with fast, flawless playing. Drummer Dave Jefferson hammered out a powerful beat and provided a great rhythm section with Willie on bass. The Gents can play everything from funky blues to slow blues grinders, fast double-shuffles to slow rolling, soulful blues. Willie seemed much more at home his second time at Famous Dave's, partly due to the fact that he had his granddaughter and three great-grandchildren who live in Minnesota in attendance. He introduced them, and commented that he had been playing for nearly 50 years, but his family in attendance had never heard him play. Willie and the Gents seemed to dig a little deeper as a result.
During the second set Willie responded to the crowd by playing a series of covers, all of which the Gents played great and Willie handled vocals on. Still, it would have been nice to hear more of Willie's songs. Willie played tribute to the late John Lee Hooker, who he had played with, on "Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom." Willie sang lustily in his deep, booming voice as his two guitar attack nailed down the boogie feel. The band closed things out with a rousing, energetic and enthusiastically delivered "Stroking" that had the crowded dance floor filled with jumping, twisting, sweaty dancers. After a powerful instrumental close, the band tried to leave the stage. Screaming and clapping for more, the crowd managed to get an obliging Willie and the Gents back on stage for a great rendition of "Red Rooster." Hopefully Willie had a good enough time so that Famous Dave's Music Director Paul Metsa can talk Willie into coming back again soon.
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