Otis "Big Smokey" Smothers might not set off too many alarms among readers, but with Ace having recently reissued his
superb 1960 and '62 King/Federal recordings, there's a good chance that his name will become more
familiar among fans of solid, traditional blues. Leaving Mississippi as many others had before him,
Smothers landed in Chicago and was soon playing guitar behind Arthur "Big Boy" Spires, Henry "Pot"
Strong, and Howlin' Wolf, in the mid-1950's. While the Chess brothers held a major percentage of the
top-shelf blues artists in the city, they passed on signing Smothers to their roster, but the figures at
Cincinnati's King label saw him as a likely competitor to Jimmy Reed, who was having strong success
Along with journeyman guitarist Fred Jordan and drummer Philip Paul (a familiar face at the King
studios through his work with Tiny Bradshaw), Smothers was set to lay down tracks and soon found
himself in the added company of Freddy King, who was signed to the same label and slated to record
the next day. Of the twelve tracks recorded, half were written by Smokey; I Can't Judge Nobody,
Come On Rock Little Girl, Smokey's Lovesick Blues, Crying Tears, Midnight And Day, and
What Am I Going To Do. One was written by Sonny Thompson, Honey I Ain't Teasin',
King's house piano player who also had a hand in co-writing a number of Freddy King singles, and five
came from the pen of Armand "Jump" Jackson, a Chicago drummer who had worked extensively in the
1940's and 50's; You're Gonna Be Sorry, I've Been Drinking Muddy Water, Blind And Dumb Man
Blues, I Ain't Gonna Be No Monkey Man No More, and the hilarious (What I Done For You)
Give It Back, including the memorable closing verse:
"Give me back that wig I bought you, give me back your one glass eye.
Give me back those teeth I loaned you, don't even say goodbye,
When I take my pegleg, you gonna fall right down and cry."
While the aim was to have Smothers compete with Jimmy Reed's lazy style, Smokey proved himself
to be a highly individual artist and solid writer. His minor-key Crying Tears] is an emotional plea
unlike anything in Reed's own catalog, while [i]Come On Rock Little Girl[/i] is a thumping backbeat
shuffle, and [i]I Can't Judge Nobody[/i] is a brilliant slice of courtroom testimony:
"Well, I'm no prosecutor and I ain't no judge, and I can't condemn you, baby, for what I heard.
I can't judge nobody, I can't judge nobody, because I may be wrong."
Freddy King stands tall throughout the session providing some highly interesting and smoldering
guitar, especially on [i]Monkey Man[/i] and [i]You're Gonna Be Sorry,[/i] and if not exceptional,
Smothers' own guitar work, and that of Jordan's, is effective and in-the-pocket. Philip Paul's drumming
is simply astounding on the twelve original King sides; whether offering crisp beats or delivering slow
blues, and his timing marks rhythmic perfection, it's a clinic of press rolls, bombs, and crashes.
Smothers returned to the King studios in February of 1962, this time towing Jimmy Malender on drums
and Louis "Little" Boyd on harp, in addition to a second guitarist (not mentioned in Bill Dahl's otherwise
informative notes), and Smokey handled four more songs; Hello Little Schoolgirl, Way Up In The
Mountains Of Kentucky, Twist With Me Annie, and a jarring The Case Is Closed, another
fine example of legal jargon. Without Freddy King's guitar in this lineup, there's a bit more of a
juke-joint feel, but each track shows Smothers was a superbly confident vocalist with a touch of
The balance of the disc is made up of nine alternate takes from the 1960 recording date that remained
in the King vaults for over forty years, and these are no less interesting than the issued sides. King
steps out a bit more here and there, and a few incomplete takes are included, but as with offerings of
this sort, it's more than pleasant to hear an actual session in progress, even if it does contain an
occasional wart. Sound quality is stellar and easily surpasses the nefarious Official label's entry a
number of years ago, and although that was welcomed at the time, Ace continues with their usual high
standards. Otis "Big Smokey" Smothers maintained his gutbucket blues approach until his death in
1993, while his younger brother, "Little Smokey," continues on today. Smokey Smothers Sings
The Backporch Blues is highly recommended!
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