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Still leading the way

Way Back
Way Back
By Willie "Big Eyes" Smith

HighTone Records: 2006

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This review first appeared in Turbula in July 2006.

This new release, only recorded last year, is powerful proof indeed that the late Muddy Waters remains a virile creative force in the blues world some 23 years after his passing, and four decades removed from when he first formed his first electric blues band in Chicago in the late 1940s.

The Waters reference is a nod to the fact that not only is Willie "Big Eyes" Smith a 19-year veteran of the Waters band (having served as drummer from 1961-'80), but there are numerous other former Waters' sidemen here: Pinetop Perkins on piano, James Cotton joining Smith on harmonica, Calvin "Fuzz" Jones on bass and guitarist Bob Margolin.

Despite the fact that many of the men on this date are septuagenarians and more, there is a loose, youthful joy permeating every track. Smith is an easy-going singer with an affable manner behind the mic. He also blows as much harp as anyone. (All those years of hearing Cotton and Little Walter playing in Waters' band couldn't have hurt any!)

The song list includes a half-dozen originals by Smith, plus covers of Waters, Sonnyboy Williamson and Jimmy Reed. It's classic postwar electric Chicago blues, played at the very highest level by many of the giants who helped create this music in the first place.