Byther Smith - DVD: Blues on the Moon – Live at the Natural Rhythm Social Club
(Also available on CD)
12 songs; 71:34 minutes; Suggested
Style: Chicago Blues
“I’m telling you people / Don’t you ever make me mad / That would give the right / To break your jaw with a left and a right!” These lyrics come from damn-real-deal bluesman Byther Smith who as a young man took up boxing. “I had 69 amateur fights and I only lost one,” says the bluesman born in Mississippi on April 17, 1932.
There are well over 80 Blues musicians who live and work in the Chicago area, and one that is not as well known but about to be much better appreciated, based on this new DVD/CD, is Byther Smith. “Smitty” came to Chicago in the mid-'50s and by the early '60s was playing at Theresa's Lounge, where he backed Junior Wells. He also worked with the likes of Big Mama Thornton, George "Harmonica" Smith, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sunnyland Slim, and Otis Rush.
This Delmark Records CD/DVD project is all about authentic, old school Chicago Blues. This DVD is the latest in Delmark’s effort to honor the remaining few Chicago greats while they still have their powerful art.
The setting is August 17, 2007, at the Natural Rhythm Social Club. It is the type of urban, working-class Chicago blues joint of which legends are made. It is small and crowded and anything but swank. Some tables are around the corner from the band out of any sight line. There is no elevated stage, so the folks in the back can not see either because the people up front are standing and dancing. What they can all do is hear and feel the power.
There is “real-deal” blues, and then there is “damn-real-deal” blues. Smitty is the latter. Byther Smith comes across as a man who is not singing the blues or performing the blues, but rather a man who is living the blues, who exudes blues, who is blues. There is nothing flashy about him – not his hair, clothes, or styling. No tie, no suit - he looks nice in a plain black shirt and tan pants, but not showy. His vocals large and just short of gruff. What you see is what you get because, it is what it is – REAL! His guitar playing is not flashy – just rock solid fret board attack and string bending. Smitty effortlessly shares leads and rhythm with second guitarist Anthony Palmer with hardly a glance or cue, perhaps they use telepathy. His band does not do synchronized dance steps; they just play from the gut. Darryl Coutts on keyboards is the closest thing to showy with scrunched facial expressions, which neither enhances nor detracts from his deft fills, melodies, and leads. James Carter on drums is obviously a cum laude graduate of Chicago Blues stick work, and he propels the beat hand-in-glove with bass man Greg McDaniel.
DVD highlights are a bonus song not included on the CD (“My Daddy’s Mean”). Song highlights include nine originals like the title track, “Judge of Honor,” “Give Up My Life For You,” and “Monticello.” There are also made-his-own covers like JB Lenoir’s “If You Love Me” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talkin.’”
I particularly enjoyed the Special Featured Byther Smith Commentary in which he tells his life story, anecdotes, and insights into writing his unique and sometimes bizarre lyrics. There are also his stories about playing with Roy Buchanan for five years, Jimmy Reed, and time with Howlin’ Wolf.
Want to find out what would happen to a young guy if he pulled a .32-20 pistol on Wolf? Get the DVD or CD to find out and get a blast of raw and uncompromising, old school Chicago Blues.
Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL