Willie “Big Eyes” Smith
Born: January 19, 1936, Helena, Arkansas
Died: September 16, 2011
Photo credit: Bill Steber – www.steberphoto.com
Willie was the longtime drummer with the Muddy Waters Band. As a child his neighbors included the likes of Robert Nighthawk and Pinetop Perkins. At 17 he traveled to Chicago to visit his mother, and never returned home; instead Smith taught himself harmonica and drums, and with harpist Clifton James and guitarist Bobby Lee Burns formed a blues trio. Upon marrying his first wife in 1955, Smith agreed to retire from performing, but within a year he was backing Arthur “Big Boy” Spires; after a brief attempt at fronting his own band, he returned to his drum kit, joining Hudson Shower’s Red Devil Trio. After a few lean years that forced him to go on welfare, Smith joined Waters in 1961 and remained with the blues giant until 1980, when he co-founded the Legendary Blues Band. His first solo recording, Bag Full of Blues, did not appear until 1995; Nothin’ But the Blues Y’all followed four years later and Blues from the Heart was issued in fall 2000. Bluesin’ It appeared in 2004 from Electro-Fi while the pleasant Way Back was released in 2006 by Hightone Records.