Picture this Post (PTP) spoke with a number of artists performing at the 2017 Chicago Blues Festival, happening June 9-11 in Millennium Park. Here, Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith (KS), a blues drummer performing at 5:30 PM on Saturday, June 10 at the Mississippi Juke Joint (North Promenade), shares his thoughts about growing up with blues royalty and the genre's future.
Smith is the son of the late blues multi-instrumentalist Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, a friend and bandmate of the legendary Muddy Waters. Raised on the blues, Smith quickly became an acclaimed, Grammy-award winning drummer in his own right. The following is a transcript of our conversation.
Picture this Post: When and why did you start playing blues music?
Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith: My father was a drummer. He played the drums – played blues – with Muddy Waters. So it was around me all of my life. So it was only natural. Like second nature. Basically that’s what it is – second nature to play the blues. So I followed in his footsteps and am still trucking along! (laughs)
PTP: What was your relationship to your father’s circle of musicians, including Muddy Waters and others?
KS: Early on, you know, I always just considered them family. I seen them so much, just on a regular basis, that it was basically like family. It was only when I got older that I really started to realize how well-known they were in the blues scene. So I was really lucky. I always considered them family. That’s what I knew them as first, before I knew them as blues musicians.
PTP: When and how did you decide to pursue music professionally?
KS: My father really had me out there early. You know, he showed me the ropes. I’d have to say my first paying gig (laughs)… probably was… I wanna say around 14 or 15, somewhere in there. From that moment, I never really stopped. I haven’t really stopped at all.
PTP: What are your biggest musical influences?
KS: You mean in terms of artists? Oh my goodness… On the blues scene, definitely Muddy Waters, Little Walter, all those guys I like.
PTP: What do you think the role of the drums is in blues music? And how is this different from other genres, like rock or jazz?
KS: With blues, you can’t play without knowing the shuffle, if you’re a drummer. You better know how to play a shuffle if you want to play blues drums. That’s one key fact. I don’t care what – you can do a ton of solos, twirling the sticks, any of that – but when it comes down to it, you better know how to play a blues shuffle if you want to do blues drums. That’s a fact. You gotta know that. And it’s not as easy as everybody thinks.
PTP: Absolutely – I play a little bit of drums myself, and I can attest. My shuffle still isn’t there yet.
KS: (laughs) But hey, you’re getting there, though. You’ve already started – you’re already on the road.
PTP: Have you seen the world of blues change since you got involved? And what do you see as the future of the blues?
KS: In my own eyes – I’m no prophet, at least – but in my own eyes, I still see it growing. People are still holding on to the roots of it, which is the key factor. And, yeah, people are still digging it and people are still playing. Whether you’re a musician or not, young or old, people are still enjoying it. I’m fascinated by that.
PTP: What projects are you currently working on? Any plans you wish to let Picture this Post readers know about?
KS: Well, mainly, I’m working on my own new blues CD. That’s one project that I’m really focusing on. Looking to add my own touch to it, to contribute to the blues, too. And I’m working very, very hard on that, to draw the picture that’s in my head (laughs).