A former rapper who was inspired to become a bluesman in his early 20s after hearing the fabled harmonica maestro Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) played on the radio, Grady Champion is an eloquent stylist with a flamboyant and crowd-pleasing onstage persona.
Bootleg Whiskey, Champion’s 2014 breakout CD for Malaco, represents an ideal showcase for his gifts. He has the lyric edge and rhythmic dexterity of a hip-hop freestylist (and, for that matter, so did Sonny Boy himself), and his sound is both rooted in the modern Mississippi blues tradition and spiked with influences borrowed from neo-soul and contemporary soul blues. His voice is emotionally intense yet unforced, and he’s capable of both nuance and subtlety even at his most declamatory. He addresses themes ranging from wry blues life vignettes (the George Jackson–penned title tune) to midnight-of-the-soul existential terror (Who Dat, co-written by Grady and former Beat Daddys lead singer Larry Grisham). Through it all, he complements the lyric vividness with precisely articulated yet passionate harmonica and guitar work, bridging multiple genres while laying bare his dedication to both musical and emotional honesty—the heart and soul of blues expression.