Big Smith is a band from Springfield, Missouri composed of five cousins, including two sets of brothers: Mark and Jody Bilyeu, Jay and Mike Williamson, and Rik Thomas.
After coming together professionally in the fall of 1996, they quickly earned a devoted following playing raucous acoustic music that captured the spirit of their native Ozarks, equipped only with an acoustic guitar, mandolin, bass fiddle and washboard. Their music can be imagined as a combination of the lively dance music of their grandparents' youth, combined with the gospel harmonies created by the next generation as they grew up in Dry Hollow along Bull Creek in the rural Christian County hills. Big Smith combines these sounds in a Pentecostal fervor, adds their own modern influences, and the result is an energetic, good-spirited music that whips audiences into a frenzy of catharsis and impenetrable good vibes.
Recent shows find them expanding their instrumentation to include electric guitars, piano and drums. The result is a live performance with variety enough to please a diverse audience, young and old, while keeping their roots firmly planted. Adding to the variety, the boys can handle as many as 20 instruments in their shows, including dulcimer, harmonica, tin-whistle, accordion, trumpet, sousaphone, trombone, slide guitar, organ, mouth bow, spoons and bones. What truly sets this band apart, however, are their well-crafted, sometimes quirky, but always catchy original songs.
They are adored in their native Ozarks, but are now enjoying capacity crowds in nearby cities: St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, Joplin, Lawrence, Fayetteville, Eureka Springs, Little Rock, Tulsa, Stillwater and Memphis. They have made their mark outside their region with several forays to Chicago, Nashville, and Austin. They have recently have enjoyed high-profile opening gigs for the likes of Emmylou Harris, Doc Watson and the Del McCoury band. Summer of 2002 found them on the road, bringing their music to new territories, including forays up north into Minnesota and Wisconsin, also down south along the Mississippi, all the way to New Orleans.
Their fourth and newest CD is a much-anticipated live CD, "Gig," released Summer 2002. Long requested by fans, it is a generous sampling of what one can expect from a Big Smith show. It includes many live staples that have not been offered on CD before, plus some new arrangements of old favorites, along with rare performances of songs audiences have heard only occasionally. It was recorded in their hometown over three nights in October of 2001 at the Outland, conveniently located next door to Lou Whitney's The Studio, which has served as the home of Big Smith's previous recording projects. "Gig" is the band's first album to be released on MayApple records, an independent company set up by the band to handle Big Smith's catalogue along with future releases of other artists and historic recordings.
In addition to "Gig," Big Smith has released two celebrated studio CDs including their self-titled debut and their most recent effort "Big Rock", and a live gospel CD that pays tribute to their family's musical roots. All four of Big Smith's CDs were co-produced by Lou Whitney of the legendary Skeletons and Morells.