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Willie “Big Eyes” Smith

January 19, 1936 – September 16, 2011

Willie Smith plays harmonica on these Earwig CDS: Millennium Blues (4943)  and Driftin’ (4947)  by Louisiana Red.

The longtime drummer with the Muddy Waters Band, bluesman Willie “Big Eyes” Smith was born in Helena, AR, on January 19, 1936; raised by his sharecropper grandparents, 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. In his later years, Willie often played harmonica and sung with an all-star band also featuring Pinetop Perkins, though he continued to play drums on special gigs too.

In 2010 Willie and Pinetop Perkins were awarded a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for Joined at the Hip.

-Written by Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide, updated by Michael Frank

willie big eyes smith
Drummer