Review: Willie “Big Eyes” Smith – Born in Arkansas

Posted on: Thursday, Oct 2, 2008

Wille "Big Eyes" Smith

“Born in Arkansas”
(Big Eye Records – BER394)

Here’s a fine new release from something of a Chicago blues legend – born in Helena, Arkansas in 1936, and like thousands from the south, relocating to the ‘Windy City’ in the 1950s’, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith became addicted to the blues after seeing Muddy Waters at the Zanzibar – and then became his drummer for some two decades, and also playing with the likes of Bo Diddley, James Cotton, Buddy Guy, and many more.

However on this new album he forsakes the drums to front a fine band with his vocals and harmonica – leaving the ‘engine room’ to his son, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, with Chicago veteran Bob Stroger on bass, Barrelhouse Chuck on keyboards, with the two guitars of Billy Flynn and Little Frank Krakowski completing the line-up.

Twelve of the thirteen tracks are self-penned, with the album produced by Smith on his own label and recorded in Chicago – his harmonica kicking things off in fine style on the mid-tempo shuffle of “When I Left”, followed by the very Muddy-sounding “Rub My Back”, and the jaunty “Money Talk” – driven along by the twin guitars.

The sweet “Dreamin’ ” takes the pace down, with some lovely chromatic harmonica, before a dip into Elmore James territory on the slide guitar-driven “Sitting Here Drinkin’ “.

“I’m The Creeper” rides along on a nice groove with Barrelhouse Chuck to the fore, pushed along by the rhythm section of Bob Stroger and Kenny Smith; with “Can’t Rest For Worry” taking us back to a Muddy Waters feel – and after Smith’s close association with the late legend, why not?

Anyone with a love of pure, classic Chicago blues will love this album – beautifully played and recorded with a very nice feel indeed, and at 72 years of age Smith seems to be having a ball – highly recommended!




October 2nd, 2008 at 21:23
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Had a nice e-mail from Kenny Smith about the review, and that Willie would love it – it’s little things like that which make contributing a joy!


Pete Evans

October 2nd, 2008 at 23:22
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Nice one Gra. I saw Willie blowing harp at The Biscuit last year and it was his first instrument before excelling at the drums.
He’s there next week so we’ll bring back some up to date pics and reviews.