Imagine if Jimi Hendrix came out of Texas. That’s what you’ve got in Mike Williams, lead singer, guitarist, powerhouse. The kind of performer who makes you scream. He’s just outrageous. Hold that thought.
This trio had the unenviable task of opening for Delbert McClinton and his fervent following. I had nooo interest─ until Williams opened his mouth and let loose with a white Fender Strat. Yipes!
Providing fluid bass lines was Jeff Leonard, and Darin Watkins brought the thunder─ a rock drummer who plays in the pocket. I was in heaven. A note about personnel: Leonard was subbing for Gerald “Tugboat” Turner II, who has played with─ well, so many name people in every musical genre that it’d be easier to tell you who he hasn’t. Leonard and Watkins are in-demand journeymen based in the Northwest, who each seem to play or record with five bands at the same time; Watkins has been Williams’s drummer on both his CDs.
They led off with “Fire Red,” the Williams-penned title track from the current CD (Remark Music Ltd. & True Blue Productions LLC), produced by Eddie Kramer, who has two of the best ears in the rock business. Like, he produced the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, and Jimi Hendrix. He’s damn right: “There’s nobody out there doing what Michael’s doing.”
Next up was “It’s No Surprise,” also from Fire Red; what caught my eye at one point early in the set (not sure on which tune) was a way-cool funky snare/cymbal figure that nearly undid my preference for tom-toms and minimal cymbal action. “Lately,” a power ballad, and “If You Let Me” are also from Fire Red, the latter song reworked from their 2008 CD King of the Dead.
Williams is the real deal: raw rock power, great voice, powerful stage presence─ and then he pulled out an ace: switched to a different guitar, sat down with it across his knees, used a cigarette lighter as a slide, and played it like a pedal steel. I wasn’t the only one who nearly fell out of my seat at “Bet Yo Mama,” the showstopper─ take that, Lenny Kravitz!
Left-handed player, moved to Seattle, played at the Jimi Hendrix Gallery opening─ yes, you can hear the Hendrix influence, but always within the context of pure rock: no jazz experimentation going on, just muscular, flat-out ka-pow! But talk about underdressed; Jimi would’ve plotzed. Mike showed up for work in undershirt, messed up jeans, a tattoo collection, and a wool cap. And yeah, he can sing the blues, too, but he stamps it with rock: listen to “Hey Baby” from Fire Red. The scary thing is, it looks like he’s just getting started.
The Mike Williams Band is touring the States through the end of the year, and then, who knows. Keep your ears open. In the meantime, you can get the music at: www.michaelwilliamsband.com (click on the Fire Red logo). And just know that anything you hear on record is ten times wilder, heavier, and more intense onstage. You’re gonna need mitten clips on your socks.