Willie "Big Eyes" Smith | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith

by

comment

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith is best known as Muddy Waters's longtime drummer, but he began his career in the 50s as a harmonica player, appearing on classic singles like Bo Diddley's "Diddy Wah Diddy." In recent years he's returned to his original instrument, and his latest disc, Way Back (Hightone), shows he's lost none of his prowess. Smith's raucous tone, dramatic swoops, and wide-ranging colorations recall Little Walter Jacobs, but he builds on Jacobs's innovations instead of merely imitating them. Six of the album's eleven tracks are Smith originals; on the mostly acoustic "Blues and Trouble" he and guitarist Bob Margolin invoke the eerie, seething intensity of Waters's early Chess recordings, and the rollicking minor-key "Woman's World" evokes both Howlin' Wolf and Diddley with its single-chord drone and streetwise, cynical lyrics. Smith's take on Sonny Boy Williamson's "Don't Start Me Talkin'" proves he's a gifted interpreter as well: his raw timbre recalls Williamson's fabled belligerence, but the harmonic and melodic conceits are all his own. Retro blues projects like this too often wind up sounding fusty and archival, but Smith and his cohorts revitalize the old themes. The band for this show includes guitarist Little Frank Krakowski, bassist Bob Stroger, and Smith's son, drummer Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith, all of whom play on the record. Thu 5/18, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash, 312-427-0333, $10.

Add a comment