Hear the Byther Smith interview and songs from four of his CD’s on Delmark Records. Byther is one of the old time Chicago blues artists.
Byther Smith was born on April 17, 1932 in Monticello, Mississippi to a large family unfortunately both his mother and father pass away while he was very young. His older brothers and sisters raised Byther while working on a farm growing cotton, corn, and peanuts. This is where he first started listening to country and western music. By age 15 Byther decided to move to Arizona to live with his Ant Aldora. Even though he was underage, he was a boxer for a while until his aunt put a stop to that.
In 1953, he married Etta Mae. The two of them moved to Chicago a few years later. During the day he worked at a candy company, and by night he played bass. He had played country music earlier, but now he played in a jazz band. After a few years Byther became Roy Buchanan’s bass guitarist for five years. While working with Roy he switched to guitar. This was a slow transition that he was a little reluctant to do. Even now, Byther still feels he was a better bass player than guitarist but the guitar opened more opportunity for him to get jobs. Over the years Byther has played with a who’s who of Chicago blues artist. Jokingly he said “I played with just about everyone here in Chicago, I think I missed just about three people”. Some of the bigger names Byther worked with are Muddy Waters on and off, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Rush a few times, Jimmy Reed (more information about Jimmy in the show), George “Harmonica” Smith, Sunnyland Slim, Little Walter and many more.
Byther Smith released several rockn’ roll 45’s in the early sixties like “Hello, Mrs. Brown, May Your Daughter Go Out, Tonight?”, “Nadine”, and with “Champion Girl” being one of the more popular songs. Through the sixties and seventies Byther played in different bands and still worked his day job. Byther was able to put all six of his girls though collage as a result of being a hard worker. Looking back on it he finds it hard to believe he was able to do all this on the little sleep he was able to get.
In the eighties and nineties he toured and started making his solo records.
The first time Byther was in Russia he heard a song from his Hold That Train CD playing in the airport. The song was “I Don’t Like To Travel”. This starts off with a very nice guitar solo followed by a mournfull voice telling how he doesn’t like to travel, but the blues are driving him away from home. Hold That Train also includes a fast pace Howlin’ Wolf song, “Killing Floor”, as well as a good version of Willie Dixon’s “300 Pounds of Joy”. The 1996 Mississippi Kid is full of Chicago blues with some songs having a little rock thrown in. Byther starts out with one of these blues-rockers in the opener “Judge of Honor”, and later in “Ashame of Myself” he’ll get you up and dancing. If your ready for some appealing blues guitar playing go no further than “Living In Pain” or “I Don’t Know Where You Go”. The latter sounds like he was really paying attention to what Roy Buchanan was laying down all those years that Byther played in Roy’s band. One of Byther’s trade mark songs “Give Me My White Robe” is on the Mississippi Kid CD too. The 1997 All Night Long, like it’s predecessor is all originals written by Byther. One of my favorite lyrics of Byther’s is on this CD “I’m Your New Lover”. Byther tells his new lover, if you need any money give B.B.King a call, if you need new clothes give Bobby Bland a call. More clever lyrics follow on “Live On This Mans Name”, but your going to have to buy this one to hear what it’s about. I never heard that he played with Albert King but he sure has Albert down on that song. If you want something deeper, listen to the guitar intro to “Walked All Night Long”, oh and don’t forget the guitar solo either. The horns on All Night Long help this CD to stand out while giving it a little more of an upity feel than the others. Mississippi Kid has horns too, but they do not stand out as much as on All Night Long. The newest CD of Byther Smith’s is his Blues on the Moon, Live at the Rhythm Social Club, which is a small bar on Chicago’s South side. Blues on the Moon really has a live feel to it, kind of a ruff and tuff, raw sound. This works positively in two ways. First this is a bit of a different sound for Byther, as most of his CD has a clean well rehearsed sound to them as you would want and expect from a studio recording. Being live gives him a somewhat new, different sound. The second way is that this is somewhat a best of CD too. With songs like “Judge of Honor”, “So Mean to Me”, “Monticello”, and “Blues on the Moon” you would like to have a little different versions. There is more keyboard playing on this too, thanks to Daryl Coutts. This CD was really good but what I liked better was the DVD of the concert with the same name, Blues on the Moon, Live at the Rhythm Social Club. The DVD has all the same songs as the CD, plus one more song. What I really liked was being able to see the band playing the songs. Then one day I was in the kitchen cooking and put the DVD on just to hear the music as you might do with a CD but with the DVD you get the choice of watching or using it as you would a CD. Best of all (well, almost as good as the music) was a very long interview with Byther Smith that I would come back to several times the next few days.
All four of the CD’s I talked about are on Delmark Records please check out the links below to buy these CDs and DVD.
Songs played in the show and the CD’s their from:
I’m Your New Lover – 1997 – All Night Long
Monticello – 2008 – Blues On The Moon (live)
I Don’t Like to Travel – 1981 – Hold That Train
Living in Pain – 1996 – Mississippi Kid
I would like to thank Byther Smith for taking the time to do the interview.
Also thanks to Kevin Johnson and Bob Koester over at Delmark Records for all their help in getting this show together.
In the show I talked about a CD/DVD set called 55 Years of Blues.
This is a very cool set with Junior Wells, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, Carey Bell, Mississippi Heat and many more. The CD has 17 tracks the DVD has 10 tracks.
To buy 55 Years of Blues go to Jazz Record Mart