Willie "Big Eyes" Smith
It is with great sadness that we report
the unexpected passing of one the true greats of the blues.
Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. Willie passed away this morning of
a stroke. He was 75 and was musically active until the very
end. A brilliant drummer, harmonica player and vocalist, he
represented the true essence of Chicago Blues, and was highly
regarded by all as an undisputed master. He was an alumni of
the Muddy Waters band and wore those stripes with honor. Willie
"Big Eyes" Smith was born in Helena, Arkansas in 1936, and started
playing harmonica at age 17, shortly after moving to Chicago.
His harmonica first appeared on record in the 1950s gracing
recordings by Arthur "Big Boy" Spires, and Bo Diddley (Willie
played the harmonica on the Diddley classic "Diddy Wah Diddy").
At some point in the mid to late 1950s
he started playing drums and in 1959 began his long association
with Muddy Waters. Smith's drumming first appeared on record
on Muddy Waters' 1960 album release of Sings Big Bill Broonzy.
Smith had a real gift for drumming and his playing would help
to define the later Muddy Waters Band sound. Many of us remember
the classic Muddy Waters lineup of Muddy, Willie, Pinetop Perkins,
Bob Margolin, Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson, and Calvin "Fuzz"
Jones. In June of 1980 members of Muddy's band struck out on
there own, and formed the Legendary Blues Band which eventually
found Willie as the lead vocalist, showcasing his stellar, down-home
vocals. Willie released his first solo album, Bag Full of Blues
in 1995, which firmly established him as an artist in his own
Willie would revive his first instrument
in later years, and in 1996 he would release Way Back,
which debuted his new direction, and showed him to be
a solid harmonicist. His final recording, Joined At The
Hip was a collaboration with the now deceased Pinetop
Perkins, and it it earned the two a Grammy in the Traditional
Blues category. We have just touched upon a few of the
many recordings of Willie "Big Eyes" Smith who's discography as both a frontman, and a sideman
represents the highest of heights in the blues. Willie
had a strong work ethic and was a consummate professional,
and as a result he worked relentlessly. He won numerous
BMAs (Blues Music Awards) as "Best Blues Drummer", and
he always carried great bands with him. Of note is the
wonderful management of Patricia Morgan, who helped guide
the later part of Willie's amazing career, and the impressive
booking of Blue Mountain Artists.
Also thanks to Willie
for bringing out the wonderful talent in his band with
Jimmy Mayes, Bob Stroger, "Little" Frank Krakowski, and
for his wonderful collaborations with other Muddy alums.
Willie leaves his greatest legacy with his son Kenny "Beedy
Eyes" Smith, who has become one of the world's greatest
blues drummers and carries on his father's sound and tradition.
Prayers for all of Willie's family, friends, fellow musicians,
and fans as we say goodbye to one of the greatest blessings
of the blues. We love you "Big Eyes". To visit Willie
"Big Eyes" Smith's website click www.williebigeyessmith.com.
Funeral information to follow.