TBT – Byther Smith Fires Things Up With “Blues On The Moon”
This week’s Throwback Thursday looks at a blues-funk classic masterpiece from the under appreciated Byther Smith.
Byther Smith is without doubt one of the most underrated guitarists in the world, in much the same way as “The Greatest Unknown Guitarist In The World,” Roy Buchanan. Both brilliant players and excellent technicians, they still remain unknown to many. What a shame. Smith has been fighting adversity, racism, and poverty all his life. He’s fought to get his due as the true master player he’s been for almost six decades now.
Smith was born in Mississippi, and by the time he was 15, he was grown far beyond his years. Eventually he would find himself in New Orleans, and then Arizona. Here he would pursue boxing, and playing the bass, while he worked driving a truck. By the time he was 21, his cousin J.B. Lenoir had provided the final piece he needed to complete his blues toolbox. He told Smith “Play you. Just play you.”
Eventually Smith found himself in Chicago, playing guitar as a sideman with the likes of Robert Lockwood, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Otis Rush. He quickly gained a reputation as a capable, steady, and responsible sideman, and eventually Junior Wells hired him to play with him at Theresa’s. Smith went on the road with some of the finest artists around including John Lee Hooker, and Lightnin’ Hopkins, and this helped him put six daughters through college.
Blues On The Moon, (Delmark), was recorded live at the Natural Rhythm Social Club in August 2007, and released June 2008, and has Smith and company in fine form, loose, and bringing it hard! The 11 songs here give listeners 66 minutes of powerful, funky, driving, and soulful blues, delivered with feeling and savvy very few artists today can even approach.
There are cuts here that we found particularly inspiring. The opener is a fat and juicy rendering of “Judge of Honor” that really brings the funk, the whole funk, and it is soulful and very real. “Give Up My Life For You” is thumping, driving, rocking, and at the same time has an earthy primitive sophistication about it that will move you. “Hard Times” is a fine example of a guitarist that could play for days and never run out of things to say, and at the same time, not bore us to tears doing it. “Monticello” is supremely pain filled, slow, beautiful blues. “So Mean To Me” features a slow, powerful delivery, with crazy good guitar tone, and it garnered much love from the crowd.
The beauty of Byther Smith is his power, which is just on the verge of bursting forth, coupled with his incredible technique, all wrapped up in an honest, gritty delivery. He never half-steps … ever. Add this incredible piece of blues history to your collection soon.