Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What Did You Miss This Week? (Week 237 #280)

Gary Smith!!!

We've had two wonderful days of Gary Smith this week - first the Chicago Blues Harp Bash #4 on Sunday followed by Gary visiting B1 during class on Monday.

The Bash was a huge success and Joe couldn't be happier with everything. Performances by Jimmie Meade, Katsu Kosaku, Morry Sochat, Ron Sorin and Grant Kessler were fantastic and all huge hits with the audience. All that lead up to a stellar show by our headliner, Gary Smith, Mr. Massive Tone!

SPACE was a near full house, so thanks to all who came out. An event this large comes off thanks to lots of people backing up Joe:

Jaime Viehweg - Bash website
Marianna Delinck Manley - poster design
Jeff "Bone" Reynolds - ticket sales
Highway RickEy - photography and Sonny Jr. amp
Kirk Manley - gopher, YMM and poster signing
Al Taylor - YMM
Shoji Naito - soundchecking the band, amp, guitar extraordinaire
Dave Barrett - connecting us with Gary
Michelle Filisko - merchandise table manager
Grant Kessler - gopher, YMM
Billy Flynn, Mike Flynn, Steve Bass - the band
Jake, Dave Specter and the rest of the staff at SPACE
Harlan Terson - sitting in on bass
Andy Willis - breathtaking caricature sketches
Jim Reeves & Erin - sound engineers, SPACE
Ray Sarna - coming from Costa Rica
Andy Garrigue - coming from Virginia
Elizabeth Hess - coming from Florida
Tom Gilmore - coming from South Haven, Michigan
And all of you - for buying tickets and CDs, bringing friends out, and promoting the show on Facebook

courtesy of Andy Willis

Gary's B1 visit was a treat! He had a lot of great wisdom on topics ranging from tone to singing to learning to play.

Regarding tone, he broke it down into four categories to work on and improve:
  1. Tongue block. No excuses. Do it, that's where big tone comes from.
  2. Hands. He demonstrated various hand/mic positions.
  3. Mic. Find a hot mic - this is definitely one of the tone components.
  4. Amp. The second gear component is your amp and he described various amp sizes and characteristics.
Sharing a couple quotes from Gary:

"You're learning a language; instead of Spanish you're learning "Bluesish".

Asked how he feels about singing, he says he enjoys it and doesn't think of himself as a singer but rather:

"...an interpreter of blues lyrics."

Gary talked about the elements he thinks about in an extended instrumental improv piece and he stressed that improvisation is certainly "the goal". He followed that up with a great swinging example.

Hanging in the corner and lobbing wonderful questions to Gary was "Grandpa" Jim Liban! It is always a special treat to have him join us from Milwaukee, and he and Gary really seemed to enjoy the back and forth. It often felt like the rest of us were just fortunate to be a fly on the wall while the legends held court.

Jim was even coaxed into singing and playing a tune with Gary - certainly a high point for us all. Huge thanks to Gary for making the trip from San Jose to entertain us two nights in a row!
            Willie "Big Eyes" Smith!!!

            Willie Smith drumming at Chicago Blues Harp Bash, 2008

            (photo Grant Kessler)

            - The B1 crew certainly has warm feelings for Willie Smith. We were thrilled to have him drum with us at our Chicago Blues Harp Bash in 2008 - we will miss him. Our friend Bob Corritore did a fantastic job memorializing Willie Smith recently:

            "RIP Willie "Big Eyes" Smith - January 19, 1936 to Sept 16th, 2011.

            It is with great sadness that we report the unexpected passing of one the true greats of the blues, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. Willie passed away this morning of a stroke. He was 75 and was musically active until the very end. A brilliant drummer, harmonica player and vocalist, he represented the true essence of Chicago blues, and was highly regarded by all as an undisputed master. He was an alumni of the Muddy Waters band and wore those stripes with honor.

            Willie was born in Helena, Arkansas in 1936, and started playing harmonica at age 17, shortly after moving to Chicago. His harmonica first appeared on record in the 1950s gracing recordings by Arthur "Big Boy" Spires, and Bo Diddley (Willie played the harmonica on the Diddley classic "Diddy Wah Diddy"). At some point in the mid to late 1950s he started playing drums and in 1959 began his long association with Muddy Waters. Smith's drumming first appeared on record on Muddy Waters' 1960 album release of Sings Big Bill Broonzy. Smith had a real gift for drumming and his playing would help to define the later Muddy Waters Band sound. Many of us remember the classic Muddy Waters lineup of Muddy, Willie, Pinetop Perkins, Bob Margolin, Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson, and Calvin "Fuzz" Jones.

            In June of 1980 members of Muddy's band struck out on their own and formed the Legendary Blues Band which eventually found Willie as the lead vocalist, showcasing his stellar, down-home vocals. Willie released his first solo album, Bag Full of Blues in 1995, which firmly established him as an artist in his own right. Willie would revive his first instrument in later years, and in 1996 he would release Way Back, which debuted his new direction, and showed him to be a solid harmonicist. His final recording, Joined At The Hip was a collaboration with the now deceased Pinetop Perkins, and it it earned the two a Grammy in the Traditional Blues category.
            We have just touched upon a few of the many recordings of Willie "Big Eyes" Smith whose discography as both a frontman and a sideman represents the highest of heights in the blues. Willie had a strong work ethic and was a consummate professional, and as a result he worked relentlessly. He won numerous BMAs (Blues Music Awards) as "Best Blues Drummer", and he always carried great bands with him. Of note is the wonderful management of Patricia Morgan, who helped guide the later part of Willie's amazing career, and the impressive booking of Blue Mountain Artists. Also thanks to Willie for bringing out the wonderful talent in his band with Jimmy Mayes, Bob Stroger, "Little" Frank Krakowski, and for his wonderful collaborations with other Muddy alums.

            Willie leaves his greatest legacy with his son Kenny "Beady Eyes" Smith, who has become one of the world's greatest blues drummers and carries on his father's sound and tradition. Prayers for all of Willie's family, friends, fellow musicians, and fans as we say goodbye to one of the greatest blessings of the blues. We love you "Big Eyes". To visit Willie "Big Eyes" Smith's website click williebigeyessmith.com."

            Note for those in or near Chicago, full details of memorials and services are described on his website. There is a musical celebration of life at Rosa's Thursday, September 22, a full day of visitation on Sunday, September 24, and funeral services on Monday, September 25.
            Class Notes
            • Collectible, autographed posters of the Bash are still available! See Joe.
            - Grant Kessler, B1 Blues Crew