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Died On This Date (September 16, 2011) Willie “Big Eyes” Smith / Grammy Winning Electric Blues Great

Posted by themusicsover on September 16, 2011

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith
January 19, 1936 – September 16, 2011

Photo by Michael Kurgansky

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith was an influential electric blues triple threat.  Not only was he revered for his singing and harmonica playing, but he was also an award-winning drummer.  Born in Helena, Arkansas, Smith moved to Chicago when he was 17 and initially took up the harmonica.  Inspired by the likes of harpists Sonny Boy Williamson II and Henry Strong, Smith formed his own trio within a year of landing in Chicago.  It was also around this time that he played on Bo Diddley’s recording of “Diddy Wah Diddy.”  Smith soon realized that harmonica players were basically a dime a dozen in Chicago, so he switched to drums and was shortly thereafter hired by Muddy Waters.  He went on to play with Waters on and off for the next two decades, only taking a break during the mid ’60s to earn more consistent money as a cab driver.  Between 1960 and 1980, Smith played on over 80 of Waters’ recordings, many of which ending up on Grammy-winning albums.  In 1980, Smith and other members of Waters’ band splintered off to form the Legendary Blues Band who some may recognize as the band behind John Lee Hooker in the 1980 motion picture, The Blues Brothers, starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.  The Legendary Blues Band recorded seven albums and toured with the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan during their run.  It wasn’t until 1995 that Smith began making his own albums.  He continued to record and perform as recently as 2010 when he and former Legendary Blues Band mate and Muddy Waters refugee, Pinetop Perkins released Joined At The Hip for Telarc Records.  The album earned the pair a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album on February 13, 2011.  Perkins passed away a little over a month later.  According to The Celebrity Cafe, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith passed away on September 16, 2011 following a stroke.  He was 75.

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Joined At the Hip: Pinetop Perkins & Willie

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