Willie “Big Eyes” Smith

Way Back

Long noted for having been Muddy Waters’ drummer for about 20 years, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith returns here to his first instrument: the harmonica. Backed on various tracks by ex-Waters band mates Pinetop Perkins (piano), Calvin Jones (bass), Bob Margolin (guitar) and James Cotton, Smith et al. have, not surprisingly, come up with a solid entry in the Chicago/Delta blues genre. These include a rousing “Tell Me Mama” by Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talkin’ ”—both harp classics on which Smith easily passes muster. Smith wrote six songs, one of them, “Blues and Troubles,” a superb duet with Margolin on slide. Other highlights are his own “Woman’s World,” (done a la Howlin’ Wolf) and “Eye to Eye,” (a very relaxed saga of woman trouble with some tasty piano by Perkins). Now in his 70s, Smith—whom Waters called “the greatest Saturday-night drummer alive”—gets behind his kit on two numbers. The main attractions, however, are his singing and harp playing, something he’s kept under wraps even after having left Waters in 1980 and founding—with Perkins, Jones and Margolin—the Legendary Blues Band. Nothing earthshaking here, but it’s a pleasant listen.