Byther Smith is bad in the best sense of the word. Nicknamed “The Mississippi Kid,” Smith is a former boxer and manual laborer who later learned to wield an axe. As a guitar man, he’s been a mainstay on the Chicago blues scene since the ’60s, working alongside many of the greats, from Muddy Waters to Little Walter, Otis Rush to Jimmy Reed. Stepping in to fill Buddy Guy’s large shoes, he played for six years with harp great Junior Wells.
Delmark released Smith’s major-label debut, Mississippi Kid, in 1996, followed soon after by ’97’s All Night Long. Now he’s back with Hold That Train.
Recorded in July, 1981, some of these tracks were issued on the Grits label as Tell Me How You Like It. Delmark’s re-release is an expanded version featuring several unissued songs, adding up to a full hour of Chicago blues played by a well-greased, hard-working band.
Smith’s fighting spirit comes through loud and clear in his guitar. His tone is tuned to a cutting treble that can make him heard in any barroom. And his licks are pure blues cool, making you stop in your tracks and spin around to pay attention.
The backing band on this session is a trim power trio – just Smith’s guitar backed by a rhythm guitar, bass, and drums. He rolls his way through Howlin’ Wolf classics like he made them, romps on original boogies, and plays blues standards with a dark mood that reminds you of the old Delta stalwarts Bukka White and Robert Johnson.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.