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The Blues Foundation's 1999 "Keeping the Blues Alive Award"|
Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame 2009 "Supportive of the Blues"
Willie Big Eyes Smith and the Juke Joint Rockers|
Review Date: Oct 2009
by Gordon Baxter
Ask any blues fan to name their favourite blues drummer and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith is a name that is bound to crop up near, if not at, the top of the list. Smith jumped at the chance to record with some old friends, collectively known here as The Juke Joint Rockers. Whilst perhaps not exactly a blues supergroup, the individual band members are all regarded as masters of their instruments.
The band lock into a solid groove right from the rocking opener "You're Too Bad," where Al Lerman does a particularly fine job on harp, whilst John Mays is the first of five vocalists used on the album. The second is ace bassist Bob Stroger, who sings both of his own ongs: "Blindman," where Jack DeKeyzer's guitar playing calls to mind Albert King, and the Jimmie Reed-like "I Gotta Move." Whilst the band members are normally associated with the blues, DeKeyzer takes things into R&B and close to jazz territory with "Who Let The Cat Out." It is one of those infectiously catchy tunes that is almost guaranteed to have you singing along on the chorus during the first play. For the most part, though, the album is solid Chicago blues.
Those who have never heard the Smith voice before will be in for a pleasant surprise with his take on Percy Mayfield's "River's Invitation." He immediately follows this by singing his own "Nobody Knows," a classic rocking Chicago blues. His swansong comes on another of his own songs, "Don't Think I'm Crazy." This is a down home country style blues with Smith only supported by Lerman on unamplified harp, and DeKeyzer excelling on guitar. All that is left is for the band to boogie off into the sunset with an appropriately jaunty "Liquified Boogie."
"Bluesin' It" comes across as a real labour of love. It is always hard to showcase a drummer without distorting the sound balance of the rest of the band. The great blues drummers (which includes Willie "Big Eyes" Smith) are always there in the mix, whether you listen out for them or not. If they were not there, you really would notice the hole in the sound. "Bluesin' It" is an hour of top class (mostly) Chicago style blues, played a set of first rate musicians, all sounding on fine form.
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