Heartbeat of the Blues
Grammy award winning drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith is one of the busiest and most respected drummers on the blues scene today. He has performed with many blues legends including Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Muddy Waters, Big Jack Johnson and Junior Wells. Kenny took some time to talk with the Blues letter in the midst of a busy summer touring schedule.
Kenny Smith has joined the ranks of great Chicago blues drummers. Men like Fred Below, Odie Payne, Sam Lay, and of course Willie Smith laid down the foundation of modern Chicago blues drumming. Kenny Smith carries this great tradition on into the future.” –Brett J. Bonner, Editor, Living Blues Magazine
I kinda took that as a lot of those legends were talking to me sayin’ “get on up and do what you do”
I followed in his steps for sure.
Who have you been performing and recording with lately?
Let’s just say any and everybody within the Chicago land (laughs) Mud Morganfield, Cash Box Kings, Mississippi Heat, Dave Spector, Matthew Skoller, Chicago Blues: a living history are just a few of the artists I work with.
The City of Chicago asked you to organize and play on the “Disciples of Muddy Waters” set for the 2012 Chicago Blues Festival. Can you tell me how that came about?
We lost so many legends during the year, so many including my father, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. That kinda shook me for a minute. So I was sittin’ on the couch just sitting there thinkin’ I don’t know if I even got the strength to keep goin’ on. I was sittin there and the thought crossed my mind for about a second, then the next second literally the phone rang and the City of Chicago called me and said “Kenny we want you at the Chicago Blues Festival” I kinda took that as a lot of those legends were talking to me sayin’ “get on up and do what you do” For me that was a moral boost and a motivation for me to get myself in gear..
Who performed with you at the Fest?
there was Bob Margolin, Mud Morganfield, Barrelhouse Chuck, Lil Frank, Bob Stroger and Joe Filisko
How did you get into playing the drums?
Well definitely I got into the drums through my father, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith he played drums with Muddy Waters but he always practiced around the house . At the beginning I would just kind of carbon copy him. If he was sittin’ there practicing I would get right next to him and practice with him. If he was practicing on his drum pad I would sit next to him and practice on my drum pad with him. I followed in his steps for sure.
Growing up did you know Muddy Waters?
Yeah he was real genuine to all the kids. Not just me. He was very humble kinda like a grandfather figure. I just remember we ran around his house a lot (laughs). It was just second nature. I seen him so much that he was just family to me.
Your dad used to practice with Muddy in building where you lived what was that like?
They rehearsed in the basement all the time. It sounded more like a party to me (laughs) but they were practicing. When I look back on that I’m really happy to have had the privilege to be around the greats.
What’s the first professional gig you remember playing?
My father used to go out on tour with the Legendary Blues Band and he would bring me along. I know from those shows I gained a lot of experience. I was pretty young 12 or 13 years old. My father would play the show but he’d let me play too. My dad would come down and take a break and let me get up with the band for a couple numbers. That’s how I got my feet wet.
What’s the triple blues shuffle?
Something fun that I created. It is what it is. Over time I’ve developed my own signature rhythm that I call the triple blues Shuffle.
I heard you were awarded a Grammy?
I got the Grammy along with Willie”Big Eyes” Smith and Pinetop Perkins for Best Traditional Blues Album for “Joined at the hip” We recorded it at Joyride Studios with Michael Freeman producing. I played drums on the whole record and I wrote three songs on there.
Tell me about the Brain Boogie?
One my fun projects I like doin’. The Brain Boogie Cd’s I do for kids on my own Big Eyes label. I’ve been doin’ this for about 12 years. I make an effort to make the Brain Boogie CDs based on the kids perspective. It’s my own way of tryin’ to give something back.
Who are some of your influences as far as blues drummers?
My father, Fred Below, Odie Payne, Earl Phillips, S.P. Leary and many more.
Do you play other instruments besides the Drums?
Drums are my core instrument. I dabble in the harmonica and I dabble with the piano but I never played them too much in public, yet.
Do you use the Piano to write music?
Who are some of you favorite musical artists outside of the blues?
I can say for one I like Jamie Foxx. He can really play the piano. I like him for the fact that he’s a true musician. On the drum scene a jazz drummer I like is Art Blakey,.
What do you like to do when you’re not playing music?
When I’m not playing music which is very rare (laughs) When I do have some time I take the time and I spend it with my family. It doesn’t matter. We go anywhere. We go apple picking, We go to a museum, it doesn’t matter as long as we’re together
written by Eric Noden