The blues, as a genre, is often associated with the past, springing to life via crackling records and vintage, sepia-toned photographs, or in decades-old dives where late-night jam sessions center on shopworn songs that have been passed down through the generations like modern folk tales.

The blues, as a genre, is often associated with the past, springing to life via crackling records and vintage, sepia-toned photographs, or in decades-old dives where late-night jam sessions center on shopworn songs that have been passed down through the generations like modern folk tales.

But for Lil' Ed Williams, who joins his band the Blues Imperials for a concert at Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza on Thursday, Feb. 25, the genre remains a living, breathing organism innately connected with the modern world.

"You turn on TV and there's something going on, or look out your window and there's something going on. There's always something going on. It's a part of life for me to grab [the guitar] to try to talk about it," said Williams, who describes himself as "the happiest man to ever play the blues." "I've just written a song called 'Trouble, Trouble, Trouble,' and it relates to today. It ain't about last year; it's about what's happening today. I want the people to know how I feel about things … because we're all living in the same world."

It's an awareness the guitarist developed growing up in a musical home on the West Side of Chicago, surrounded by aunts and uncles who treated the blues as Gospel - particularly his late uncle J.B. Hutto, a famed bluesman who served as an early mentor and remains a continuing source of inspiration.

"J.B. would play, and my aunts and uncles would sit around and they would laugh and they would cry. It was amazing to see … how this music made my family act in that manner," said Williams, 60, who first picked up a guitar at the age of 11. "To see my old uncles with tears in their eyes, and I was crying right along with them. I didn't know what I was crying for, but I felt what they felt. Then my aunts would grab me and say, 'Get on up and dance!' And I felt that, too."

Similar sensations occur when Williams locks in with his long-running band, which has supported the frontman since he traded a gig at a car wash for the life of a traveling musician nearly three decades ago.

"When me and my guys lock, it's like I'm floating," Williams said. "You can feel it when everybody is working really good. We'll start eyeing each other and giving each other this little smirk because we know we're in the mix. And my guys know if they give me that mix … I'm going to take it and I'm going to make it grow. I might even jump off the stage and do a flip or something, because that's how the music moves me."