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Willie “Big Eyes” Smith - Born In Arkansas

Big Eye Records, Inc.

13 songs; 56:35 minutes; Library Quality

Styles: Chicago Blues, Country Blues

Should an “old man” want a young woman or an old woman? Not really that old himself at only 72, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith sings, “I’d rather be an old woman’s sweetheart than a young woman’s fool....An old woman is gonna treat me right...while this young one wanna fight.” Undoubtedly, that’s sage advice found in track 5, “Old Woman Sweetheart!”

Getting smarter while getting older is also evident with Willie choosing to create his own record label for his sixth album; “Born In Arkansas” is on his own, Big Eye Records, Inc. Most well known as Muddy Waters’ drummer on all his Grammy Award albums, Smith had released five previous CDs since 1995 for Blind Pig, Juke Joint, Electro-Fi, and Hightone labels.

For fans of Chicago Blues (and who isn’t), this CD is as good as it gets for contemporary real-deal blues albums. Smith’s choice of musicians for this studio production is simply stellar. Start with guitarist Billy Flynn, a musician’s musician proven by his first-call status for studio work and backing live concerts (e.g. Jody Williams). Second guitar is performed by “Little Frank” Krakowski who has played with Willie since his teenage years. Next, on piano and his Farfisa organ, Charles “Barrelhouse Chuck” Goering brings his extensive knowledge gained as an understudy of Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, and Pinetop Perkins. Consummate veteran bassist Bob Stroger holds down half of the engine room while Willie Smith passes the sweaty drum work to the younger generation, his own hard working son, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith. That leaves Willie to masterfully play diatonic and chromatic harmonicas, sing all vocals in his likeable, wearied voice, write all the songs, and produce the album, too, dedicated to his mother Lizzie Mae Smith.

Among the many highlights are the Elmore James inspired slide guitar on “Sitting Here Drinkin,’” Willie’s beautiful chromatic harp on the slow instrumental “Dreamin,’” Willie singing biographical lyrics on the title track (“The blues had a baby/that’s where I come from”), Willie’s sensible advice on the socially conscious “World in An Uproar,” Billy Flynn’s mandolin on “Ain’t That A Shame,” the simple arrangement of the low-down country blues “Overcoat Mama,” and the up tempo shuffle “Believe Me.”

If all you know about Willie “Big Eyes” Smith is that he was Muddy’s drummer, then you are in for a real treat. With an outstanding cast in support, Smith proves himself entertainingly proficient in many dimensions on this CD. He’s not likely to get any better than this until he gets to heaven.

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

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