An Interview with drummer/educator Kenny Smith, son of Willie 'Big Eyes" Smith: Live, love and learn and respect one another.

"I learn to keep myself disciplined, to have fun and enjoy the people around me."

Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith: Keep on keeping the blues alive

Kenny Smith was raised in the heart of the Chicago blues scene. While other babies listened to nursery rhymes, Kenny listened to the blues, and the blues in Kenny's house were played by America's finest. His father, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, is one of the best-known living blues drummers. Willie played in Muddy Waters's band for some 30 years. So, it's only natural that Kenny would grow up with a drumstick in his hand and a back beat in his head. Muddy Waters and his band were like family to Kenny, they encouraged his music and were his mentors.

In a recent article about Kenny's drumming capabilities Robert Margolin said: "…Kenny … plays in the moment and provides a great drum part in any musical situation. He listens and creates in an instant. Kenny is certainly already one of the best drummers out there. Trust me on that. I've been on bandstands with some of the best - and the worst."

While Kenny acknowledges that his father taught him 99% of what he knows, he has also studied with such great drummers as Odie Payne, Fred Below, Earl Phillips, S. P. Leary, Francis Clay and Art Blakey.

Kenny has performed with an impressive list of blues legends, that includes Pinetop Perkins, Big Bill Morganfield, Homesick James, Honeyboy Edwards, Henry Townsend, Rusty Zinn, Fingers Taylor, Mississippi Heat and The Cashbox Kings - just to name a few. He has played on more than 50 albums with people like Jody Williams, Big Jack Johnson, Aron Burton, Lurrie Bell, Dave Myers, Kim Wilson, Paul deLay, Junior Wells and the Legendary Blues Band.

Kenny reports: "I am seriously developing my piano playing and my vocals. The harp is just a hobby, but the drums are my heart and soul. If there comes a time when I feel the blues is dying, I will make a Kenny Smith CD to carry on the tradition, to keep the blues alive. I grew up with the blues all around me, from the very day I was born, so the traditional blues will always be a big part of me. I can play different styles of music but I learned it all from the blues."

Interview by Michael Limnios

Kenny, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues & who were your first idols?
My first desire was when I was a young boy watching my father and all of his friends practice in our basement. I then went to a show and watched thousands of people enjoying these same songs that I had heard in my own house that was my moment, and my first idol is and will always be Willie Big Eyes Smith not because he was a great blues Legend, most of all he was a great Father.


What have been some of your musical influences & what were the first songs you learned?
My first musical influences was the blues because when I grew up, that’s all I knew.  

What are your first musical memories growing up in Chicago?
My first musical memory was going the University of Chicago and watching my father and Muddy play. I grew up with the blues all around me and I considered all the blues giants that would come to the house, as family.

How was your relationship with all your father’s friends?
It was great because his friends were considered family to me. Muddy and the guys would get together, play cards, laugh and joke while us, the kids and grandkids, ran around the house.

Are there any memories of all these “blues cats” which you’d like to share with us?

I can remember going to a Muddy show and seeing a whole bunch of musicians, Lightnin’ Hopkins and many others, sitting around playing cards laughing and joking all night long.  It was late… so I went to sleep on the couch and when I woke back up again, they were still playing cards, laughing and joking. By this time the sun was coming out.


Do you think the younger generations are interested in the blues?
Absolutely- I see them all across the world playing the blues from their hearts.

What do you learn about yourself from music?
I learn to keep myself disciplined, to have fun and enjoy the people around me.

How did you choose the nickname “Beedy Eyes”?
Someone wrote an article and called me “Beedy Eyes” because my dad was “Big Eyes” and from there it stuck!

Difficult question, but...Odie Payne, Fred Below, Earl Phillips, S. P. Leary, Francis Clay which of these GREAT drummer you do you consider the best?
All of those guys, including Willie Big Eyes Smith, were the founding pioneers for the blues. By far my father was my greatest mentor for me but I also knew of S.P. Leary, Odie Payne, Art Blakey and this list can go on forever.


Photo Credits: Kenny & Willie "Big Eyes" Smith at Buddy Guy's Legend by Barry Brecheisen 

How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?
I feel the warmth and the joy that we bring to one another.

What advice has given Willie “Big Eyes” Smith?
Live, love and learn and respect one another.

Could you tell me a little about “Blues in School” and how it came about?
I give workshops to young kids and also do a lot of workshops in universities about the blues. There’s no limit- if you want to learn about the blues, I’ll teach it to the youngest children and also at the universities.

What are some of the memorable gigs you've had?
My fondest memories are those playing drums behind my father on stage.


What advice do you want to give to your daughter?
I want her to follow her dreams and work hard to achieve them.


I saw at your bio you play piano & harp. Do you play other instruments besides drums

I fiddle a lot of different blues instruments but drums are a big part of my life.

How do you describe Kenny?

I try to be positive and enjoy life to its fullest!


What are your plans for the future?

My present future in the music business is going great and I couldn’t ask for anything more.


Why do you think that Chicago Blues continued to generate such a devoted following?
I would not just say Chicago blues generates a loyal following. I would say that the blues has such an impact on people from all walks of life young and old from all over the world that’s how strong the feeling of the blues is.



Do you remember any funny thing that ever happened on a gig?
There was a performance in Canada that I did and I had brought brand new drum sticks for the show but as soon as we started the show, my sticks broke so I grabbed another pair and they broke after one stroke and that kept happening over and over again. By the end of the show I was playing with a pair of sticks that I used a whole roll of duck tape to repair.  That never had happened to me before! 


What characterize the blues philosophy of Kenny Smith about the blues?
The Blues affects everyone differently but for me, it my passion its part of my life. I laugh with the blues. Cry with the blues and most importantly I can feel the blues inside of me every single day just like I can feel the beating of my heart.


Give one wish for the blues
I wish that I could make a wish for the blues.
However, there is not one thing that the blues has not already experienced.

Do you have a message for the Greek fans?
Keep on keeping the blues alive and I hope to get over and jam with you sometime.

Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith's website


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