Wednesday, June 20, 2018
5:15 pm - 9:30 pm
Join us in the Miller Lite Beer Garden for a free, all-ages show with blues band, Smiley Tillmon Ft. Kate Moss, and special guests, The Bear Williams Band, part of Navy Pier’s free music and dance series, Live on the Lake!
Smiley Tillmon Band
7pm – 8pm & 8:30pm – 9:30pm
Bear Williams Band
5:15pm – 6:15pm
One of the busiest blues outfits in Chicagoland, the Smiley Tillmon Band is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. There’s an obvious reason why the veteran guitarist’s booking schedule is so jam-packed: Smiley knows how to have a good time and makes sure his audience does too. After 55 years on the local blues scene, Tillmon serves up the blues and soul standards that people never seem to stop craving, his rich vocals and fluid guitar backed by a band that keeps his grooves tight and right.
Born Moses Tillmon in rural Jefferson County, Georgia, Smiley grew up on a hearty musical diet of gospel, country, and a little blues. His mother moved to Fort Lauderdale when he was ten; there he was exposed to calypso music, adding up to a singular list of influences. Tillmon took up guitar and was good enough by the dawn of the ‘60s to back Miami R&B singer Billy Miranda in the studio. He joined Sammy Ambrose & the Afro-Beats, a calypso-oriented band, touring from Canada to New York. Smiley bid the Afro-Beats adieu in 1962 and moved to Chicago. There he established himself on the blues circuit, playing with Billy “The Kid” Emerson, Denise LaSalle, and other South Side luminaries until he opted for a day job in 1977.
Upon his 2007 retirement, Smiley reverted to full-time musical status. He joined forces with bassist Tom Rezetko, and they’ve been inseparable onstage ever since. Kate Moss shares guitar duties with Tillmon; married to another blues guitar standout, Nick Moss, Kate’s sound is heavily influenced by Freddie King and Magic Sam (she fell in love with the blues at age 21 when she met Buddy Guy, and she’s shared stages with Buddy, Jimmy Johnson, Eddie Shaw, and Lurrie Bell, just to name a few). Drummer George Baumann completes one of the Windy City’s toughest blues combos, one that’ll keep you smiling from ear to ear.
The Bear Williams Story begins in Arkansas where Bear’s Mother and Father were born. Bear was a fun loving kid with a zest for life and music. Some of his musical influences were Blues Legends, Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf, R.L. Burnside, Son House, and other great Master Musical Storytellers. Bear grew up in the Northern Mecca for Blues, Jazz and Rock Music, Chicago, Illinois.
Bear’s birth name is Larry Kimpel, and it is by that name that he has been known throughout the music industry for over two decades . Bear spent 25 years in Los Angeles, California touring and recording with A List Musicians and Artists, like Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly, George Duke, Boney James, Mavis Staples and The Staple Singers, Larry Carlton, Anita Baker, and a host of other well-known names.
How did the whole name change come about? Bear explains… “It was the Fall of 2015 and my then Fiancee’ (Dee) told me that I was her ‘Big Ole’ Bear!’ Well, people began calling me ‘Bear’ and the name just stuck! I added my mother’s maiden name of Williams and the rest is now history. My first Country/Blues/Rock CD, called Waters of Love, is being releases September 9th on GVR Records.”
The Bear Williams Sound is a merging of southern roots music and country, coupled with the urban feel of the Blues Music of Chicago.
As a young teenager, Bear had the honor of attending the funeral of Legendary Blues Man, Howling Wolf. Says Bear, “It was the Winter of 76′ and I remember my high school band director telling my class to go up to a local funeral home after school that day and pay our respects to a musical legend. But, he didn’t let any of us know who we were going to see there.
“After school, I walked into the A.R. Leak Funeral Home on 78th and Cottage Grove in Chicago. I remember going through two big white doors and seeing a casket in the front of the room flanked by flowers. Organ music was playing solemnly in the background. There were mourners all around and everyone was crying. I I walked to the front of the room and shook the hands of those family in the front row. Before heading for home, I wrote my name in the guestbook and a couple of weeks later, I received a handwritten note in the mail that said, “Thank you for attending the Funeral of Chester A. Burnett AKA Howlin’ Wolf.”
Fast forward to today, and Bear Williams is sharing his special brand of music with the world, just as Howlin’ Wolf did. And Bear Williams hopes that in some small way to inspire young Blues Musicians to do the same.
This free, all ages concert is presented as part of Live on the Lake!, Navy Pier’s free summer music series in the Miller Lite Beer Garden.