Blues Underground Network

Back To Recommended Artists CD's Index
Back To Blues Underground Network

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith
"Born In Arkansas"
(Big Eye Records)

Reviews and Info

What would 10-year-old Willie Smith have said back in 1946 if asked what he wanted to be when he grew up? The Legendary Bluesman would have had the same answer as most any other boy his age in Arkansas: a train conductor, better yet, a freight train conductor. In that Mississippi Delta River town of Helena, Arkansas where he was born, Willie knew only what surrounded him, and to Willie, that meant the farming life. He knew how to “pick cotton, pull cotton, and bail cotton” and he knew that for every hundred pounds he bagged he made $2 in cash. Willie knew how to make sticks and stones into bats and balls. He knew how to ride his prized bicycle, given to him by his adored mother, Lizzie Mae Smith. Willie knew he loved the blue river, the flatlands, and most of all, he knew he loved The Music. Through his RCA Victor Phonograph Gramophone, Willie experienced Robert Johnson, Tampa Red, Leroy Carr and Memphis Minnie, among others. Even now, hearing their songs brings Willie back, as he says, to the days of “jukin’ in smoky, uptown cafes.” 

It was not until his teenage years that Willie realized musicians could travel the world to play music. After fifty-three years in the music business, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith has proven time and time again that he has found his calling and was born to play the blues. Just one look into his eyes when he’s performing and you know that Willie feels the same excitement about the music now that he did when he first heard Muddy Waters’ electrifying sounds back in 1953, at Zanzibar in Chicago. You’ll often hear him say “nothin’ but the blues, ya’ll” and to Willie, that couldn’t be more true. His only passion is to be a “part of the wheels turnin’” and it doesn’t matter to Willie if that means being a sideman or a leader, as long as he can play the drums and blow his harp. Willie works hard for the blues community and his fans, often writing songs into the early hours of the morning, requiring his wife Lou to pull him off to bed. What is the secret to finding this absolute happiness? Once you’ve heard Willie laugh, you’ll know that he knows it. And by creating Born in Arkansas, he’s sharing it with you.

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith has some of the finest artists performing with him on this CD. Mr. Bob Stroger is an extraordinary bass player who has played with the likes of Otis Rush, Sunnyland Slim, and Eddie Taylor, to name a few. Along side Bob, Barrelhouse Chuck, who tickles the ivory, studied under Little Brother Montgomery and Pinetop Perkins and continues to pay tributes to all those who came before him. Billy Flynn, one of the most versatile guitarists and a legend in his own right, has played with Jimmy Dawkins and was a member of the Legendary Blues Band. Also on guitar, Little Frank Krakowski specializes in‘50 and ‘60s style blues music and has been playing with Willie since his teen years. Playing the back beat, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, son of Willie Smith, has been playing drums since the age of 4, and is now one of the hardest working drummers around.

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith is proud to present Born In Arkansas and he’d like to thank you for supporting and keeping the blues alive!

author: ALBERT DEI

author: Harri Haka
I had a lot of expectations for this release based on Willie's previous albums. And was not disappointed. This is the real thing, blues as it should be performed. Great songs, great harp and vocals and a really tight band. Blues is alive and well!

author: thomas roslan
if you don't like willie "big eyes" smith then you don't like the blues. the blues best drummer is also an excellent harp player. all star band backing him up this is the best new album co 2008.keep it up, willie your a true bluesman.

author: Barry Cooke
In A World Where Real Blues Music Is Not Often Heard, Its Nice To Hear A Cd That Stays True To The Form. Its Nice To See Willie Has Gone Back To His Roots And Playing Harp. Willie Is Such A Great Harp Player, As He Is A Drummer. I Have Also Met Willie A Few Times, As I Am A Blues Musician Also. Its Like The Old Saying,, If You Want Something Done Right, You Got To Do It Yourself.....

Previous Notes and Reviews Courtesy of CD Baby

For two decades, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith was Muddy Waters' drummer. But a native of Helena Arkansas he grew up listening to harmonica genius Sonny Boy Williamson's radio show. Moving to Chicago at the age of 16, inspired by Water's harp player, Henry Strong he formed his first band, leading it on harmonica. He played for the late, great Bo Diddley on "Diddy Wah Diddy". But he found more work as a drummer, and that became his instrument for several decades, recording his first album with Muddy in 1960. 

Now he's returned to being a band leader in his own right, playing some tasty blues harp, tasty vocals and writing 12 of the 13 cuts on this CD. After more than 50 years in the blues music business, Smith is not sitting back on his reputation, but moving ahead, creating new blues in a solidly 50s Chicago style.

With Billy Flynn on guitar and Bob Stroger on bass plus Barrelhouse Chuck there's no shortage of experience in the line-up and Willie's son, Kenneth "Beedy Eyes" Smith, lays down some serious back beat.

Smith plays cross and chromatic harp styles, always sparingly and always right on the button. The guitar players have a handle on a variety of styles. The album doesn't tell who does what. As well as Billy Flynn, there is also Little Frank Krakowsk on guitar. Between the two of them there's tasty slide, both in regular tuning and Elmore James-feel open tuning right down to mandolin - or maybe guitar played to sound like one. 

Smith manages to write songs that sit right there in that early Chicago tradition but they're also fresh, genuine new songs. Just listen to Smith's lyrics - "I'd rather be a old woman's sweetheart than a young woman's fool…" this 72 year old blues man still has something new to say. It's the 'real thing' alright - and an excellent album.

Blues News


1 When I Left
2 Rub My Back
3 Money Talk
4 Ain't That a Shame
5 Old Woman Sweetheart
6 Dreamin
7 Sitting Here Drinkin'
8 Born in Arkansas
9 World in An Uproar
10 I'm the Creeper
11 Can't Rest for Worry
12 Believe Me
13 Overcoat Mama

About Willie "Big Eyes" Smith

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith was born in Helena, AR in 1936. At the age of 17 he ventured to Chicago where he heard Muddy Waters for the first time. Willie was hooked on the blues and the attraction to the music persuaded him to stay in Chicago.

In 1954 Willie, playing harmonica, formed a trio with drummer Clifton James. The trio built a following in Chicago and gigged around the area for a few years. During this same time, Willie played harp with several other artists including Bo Diddley, Arthur "Big Boy" Spires and Johnny Shines. In 1957 Willie joined Little Hudson's Red Devil Trio and switched to playing drums. After gigs or between sets, Willie started sitting in on drums with Muddy Waters' band. Muddy liked what he heard, and invited Willie to play drums on a 1959 recording session. Willie began to fill in for Muddy's drummer Francis Clay, and continued to play recording sessions with Muddy. In 1961, Willie replaced Clay in Muddy's band and played with Muddy till mid-1964. During this period, as he solidified his Chicago sound, Willie recorded with James Cotton, Jo Jo Williams and Muddy Waters on a tribute to blues vocalist Big Bill Broonzy.

The '60s were lean times for the blues and for a few years (mid-'64-'68) Willie packed up his drum kit and found himself doing odd jobs including working in a restaurant and driving a cab around Chicago. One night in 1968 Willie decided to go out and listen to Muddy. Rediscovering his desire to play, he asked to sit in with the band. The next day Muddy asked Willie to rejoin his band. Willie played in Muddy's band till 1980 and appears on all of Muddy's Grammy-winning albums.

After performing with Muddy Waters, Smith established his own niche within the tradition of the Delta Blues Sound by co-founding the Legendary Blues Band with Pinetop Perkins, Louis Myers, Calvin Jones, and Jerry Portnoy. The group was nominated for several Grammy Awards, recorded four critically acclaimed albums on the Ichiban label, backed up Buddy Guy, Howlin' Wolf and Junior Wells, toured with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. They played behind Muddy for the soundtrack of the movie The Last Waltz and appeared in the movie The Blues Brothers where they played street musicians backing John Lee Hooker.

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith traditional shuffle style has been regarded as the heart and soul of the Chicago blues sound, with Willie laying the beat behind many of the blues classics. But these days fans are just as likely to find Willie "Big Eyes" Smith holding on to a harmonica, his first instrument, as a drum stick. Turns out, this award-winning blues drummer is also an accomplished harmonica master and dynamic vocalist. 

Willie Smith reaches deep and delivers a virtual lesson on what the blues really are all about...there's something extraordinary here.

~ John Taylor/Blues on Stage

Muddy Waters plays Blow Wind Blow

Featuring Willie "Big Eyes" Smith on drums

Muddy Waters on vocal/guitar, Bob Margolin on Guitar, Jerry Portnoy on Harmonica, and Luther "guitar" Johnson on guitar.