The old “Sugar Bear” Willie Kent was a deep blues man whose voice conjured an ancient pain that went all the way back to his birthplace of Inverness, Mississippi, and maybe further. He produced eleven albums during his career—four of them for Delmark, including Ain’t it Nice, which was named the Library of Congress’ Best Blues Recording of the Year 1991. After his 1952 arrival in Chicago, Kent worked with Willie Hudson, Eddie Taylor, Little Walter, Hip Link chain and Jimmy Dawkins before becoming a bandleader/bassist with a regular gig at Ma Bea’s.
Vocalist Bonnie Lee, who is also being honored tonight, was a frequent guest singer. Kent was a master at the art of laying down a simple and sinuous bass pat- tern for his band, The Gents, to groove to, while he proceeded to wrest every ounce of emotion from the lyrics of each song.
Kent’s hypnotic blues groove, a vestige of the juke joint music he heard growing up in rural Mississippi, was unquestionably a vestige of something even earlier and more primordial.
Guy King served a six-year stint as lead guitarist and bandleader in Willie Kent’s band, during which he recorded on Comin’Alive! (Blue Chicago Records, 2001) and traveled as far as Japan with the band. King accompanied Kent until Kent’s death in 2006, after which King decided to strike out on his own.