Robert Ward | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Robert Ward 

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Guitarist Robert Ward helped found the Ohio Untouchables, a Dayton-based group that scored regionally in the early 60s on the tiny LuPine and Groove City labels--and that went on, after Ward left, to win international fame as the Ohio Players. But his most significant recording during that era was the 1962 epic "I Found a Love," with Wilson Pickett's early band the Falcons: Ward's sulfurous leads intertwined with Pickett's screams in an unstable marriage of spiritual and carnal intensity that helped define the emerging style of soul. As a Motown session man in the early 70s, Ward contributed his tough, urgent chords and eerie tremolo to the "psychedelic soul" sound of the Temptations and the Undisputed Truth, but after his wife died in 1977 he returned to his native Georgia, where he worked blue-collar jobs and played in a gospel group. He wouldn't appear on another high-profile recording for more than a decade, and when he did reemerge, it was as a bluesman. Fear No Evil (Black Top), released in 1990, showcased his weather-beaten but elegant vocals and an almost manic guitar virtuosity: he fired off bass, rhythm, and lead lines simultaneously, jumping from chicken scratches and rough-cut blues licks to deep-pocket soul chords, from back-alley screaming to his signature watery tremolo. Since then he's reined it in a little, and on this year's New Role Soul (Delmark) he gives one of the most coherent performances of his career, developing his solos with a logic that's sometimes escaped him in the past. But his material is still all over the map, from the rootsy funk of "The Chicken Jerk" to the haunting, minor-key gospel moaner "Whatever I Receive" to a take on Kenny Burrell's "Chitlins con Carne" that sounds like it was recorded chin-deep in a Delta swamp. Friday, 9 PM, B.L.U.E.S., 2519 N. Halsted; 773-528-1012. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Robert Ward photo by James Fraher.

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