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Big Walter Smith
& The Groove Merchants

@ Brew Baker's, April 11, 1998

Big Walter Smith
Brew Baker's, 4/11/98
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
Big Walter Smith & The Groove Merchants held their CD release party for their new album "Midnight Express" (reviewed in last months TCBN) recently at Brew Baker's. The band, with Scotty Graves on vocals along with and his hollow body electric guitar, started the show with a Sonyboy Williamson song. He even had a little "Hideaway" lick going on in there. The Groove Merchants are brassy, big band R&B with some swing and a little funk thrown in for good measure. They feature Graves on lead guitar, Paul Wigen on keyboards, Josh Taulbe on bass, Tom McShane on drums and the horn section of Ruston Reynolds (saxophone), Matt Franko (trombone) and newest member Tom Tange (trumpet). The band is led by the smooth, sweetly soaring vocals of Big Walter Smith. Big Walter is equally at home on the slower blues ballads as he is on the rocking jump and R&B tunes and his band the Groove Merchants are one of the primer R&B bands in the area.

Big Walter sang most of the songs from the new CD including the title song "Midnight Express" which has a funky beat and some expressive vocals. One of my favorites "Rainy Chicago Blues," has a special connection for me. The song was written about the 1996 Chicago Blues Festival that experienced rain all 3 days. One night after the festival that year I remember standing in line, in the rain, at a Chicago blues club (Blue Chicago) waiting to get into the packed house to see Magic Slim and the Teardrops. Big Walter and some of his band were right in front of me waiting in the rain. I wonder if that might have been one of the events that initiated the writing of that song.

Scotty Graves
Brew Baker's, 4/11/98
Photo © 1998 by Tom Asp. All rights reserved.
Big Walter sang a Stevie Wonder song "I Wish," and his smooth high voice soared through "Soul Man" before he made a transition right into a swinging rendition of "Sweet Home Chicago." The song "383 Emergency" was a faster paced jump blues and the Johnny Taylor song "Last Two Dollars" featured Walter belting out some great southern soul. Of course he also sang "If you Love Me Like You Do" and "Sweet Black Angel" which he does at all of his shows.

At this show the band was breaking in a new trumpet player. Since the horn section is known as the Hi-Steppin' Horns and features some practiced dance steps the other two horn players were putting Tom Tange to the test. I'm afraid he is going to have to get a little more rhythm before he fits in with Rusty and Matt's choreography. It was a little amusing at times watching him try to keep up with the dance steps while still playing the music. I'm sure with time he will fit right in though.

The Groove Merchants have a full summer schedule ahead including appearances at the Blues on The Rang festival June 13 and the 10th annual Bayfront Blues Festival in August. Last year the Mayor of Duluth dedicated a Big Walter Smith day and honored him with a citation proclaiming Big Walter Smith Ambassador To The Blues. By the way, Big Walter and the Groove Merchants are the only band to have appeared at every Bayfront Blues Festival.

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Copyright © 1998 by Ray M. Stiles
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.