What would 10-year-old Willie Smith have said back in 1946 if asked what he wanted to be when he grew up? The Legendary Bluesman would have had the same answer as most any other boy his age in Arkansas: a train conductor, better yet, a freight train conductor. In that Mississippi Delta River town of Helena, Arkansas where he was born, Willie knew only what surrounded him, and to Willie, that meant the farming life. He knew how to “pick cotton, pull cotton, and bail cotton” and he knew that for every hundred pounds he bagged he made $2 in cash. Willie knew how to make sticks and stones into bats and balls. He knew how to ride his prized bicycle, given to him by his adored mother, Lizzie Mae Smith. Willie knew he loved the blue river, the flatlands, and most of all, he knew he loved The Music. Through his RCA Victor Phonograph Gramophone, Willie experienced Robert Johnson, Tampa Red, Leroy Carr and Memphis Minnie, among others. Even now, hearing their songs brings Willie back, as he says, to the days of “jukin’ in smoky, uptown cafes.”
It was not until his teenage years that Willie realized musicians could travel the world to play music. After fifty-three years in the music business, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith has proven time and time again that he has found his calling and was born to play the blues. Just one look into his eyes when he’s performing and you know that Willie feels the same excitement about the music now that he did when he first heard Muddy Waters’ electrifying sounds back in 1953, at Zanzibar in Chicago. You’ll often hear him say “nothin’ but the blues, ya’ll” and to Willie, that couldn’t be more true. His only passion is to be a “part of the wheels turnin’” and it doesn’t matter to Willie if that means being a sideman or a leader, as long as he can play the drums and blow his harp. Willie works hard for the blues community and his fans, often writing songs into the early hours of the morning, requiring his wife Lou to pull him off to bed. What is the secret to finding this absolute happiness? Once you’ve heard Willie laugh, you’ll know that he knows it. And by creating Born in Arkansas, he’s sharing it with you.
Willie “Big Eyes” Smith has some of the finest artists performing with him on this CD. Mr. Bob Stroger is an extraordinary bass player who has played with the likes of Otis Rush, Sunnyland Slim, and Eddie Taylor, to name a few. Along side Bob, Barrelhouse Chuck, who tickles the ivory, studied under Little Brother Montgomery and Pinetop Perkins and continues to pay tributes to all those who came before him. Billy Flynn, one of the most versatile guitarists and a legend in his own right, has played with Jimmy Dawkins and was a member of the Legendary Blues Band. Also on guitar, Little Frank Krakowski specializes in‘50 and ‘60s style blues music and has been playing with Willie since his teen years. Playing the back beat, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, son of Willie Smith, has been playing drums since the age of 4, and is now one of the hardest working drummers around.
Willie “Big Eyes” Smith is proud to present Born In Arkansas and he’d like to thank you for supporting and keeping the blues alive!