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Big Bad Smitty, whose real name is John Henry Smith, is a Mississippi guitarist in the style of Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. During his youth, Smitty played in the region of Greenville with Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes, a friend from school. The pair established a band and also played gigs in Arkansas. Smitty settled in Jackson, MS, and drove a truck for a living when he was in his twenties. The local blues scene afforded him the opportunity to play with musicians such as King Mose, Sam Myers, King Edward, and John Littlejohn. He recorded for Ace Records' Johnny Vincent, whose stable of talent included Huey "Piano" Smith and Frankie "Sea Cruise" Ford. Some of Smitty's recordings can be found on a reissue of Ace's Genuine Mississippi Blues, which was originally released in 1970. The guitarist relocated to St. Louis, where he hooked up with Big George Brock, Little Weaver & the Dynamite, and Bennie Smith. After heading home to Mississippi, he formed Big Bad Smitty & the Upsetters. JCE released his St. Louis on a High Hill album during the '80s. During the early '90s, Black Magic put out Mean Disposition in Europe. Aim Records released it in Australia, while Genes put it on the market in the U.S. An appearance at the Holland festival known as Blues Estafette followed, with Smitty touring Italy and Switzerland in 1992. The following year, Smitty again toured Italy and Switzerland, throwing in stops in Germany. He also played England's Burnley National Blues Festival, Belgium's Handzame Blues Festival, Arkansas' http://www.bluesandheritagefest.com/ Blues Festival, and the Chicago Blues Festival. Also in 1993, the guitarist performed at Iowa's Mississippi Valley Blues Festival and Australia's East Coast Blues Festival. Upon returning home, the guitarist was waylaid by a stroke. ~ Linda Seida, All Music Guide'
John H. Smith was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi 2-11-40, and raised
in the tiny delta town of Schlater, (pronounced "slaughter!")
Mississippi. When he was ten his father bought a guitar for Smitty's
older brother Nelson, and Smitty would play it when no one was around.
The first song he learned was Muddy Waters'
"Still a Fool."
By his twenties he had moved to Jackson, Mississippi and took up truck driving. In the fertile Jackson blues scene of the fifties Smitty played regularly with artists including John Littlejohn, Sam Myers, King Edward and King Mose at clubs such as The Queen of Hearts and Sammy Lee's on Livingston. He was recorded at this time by Johnny Vincent of Ace Records whose most famous artists included Frankie "Sea Cruise" Ford, and Huey "Piano" Smith of "Rockin' Pneumonia and Boogie Woogie Blues" fame. Two of these cuts, "Smokestack Lightnin'" and "How Many More Years" appeared on the Ace 1970 anthology Genuine Mississippi Blues alongside cuts by such greats as Fred McDowell, ohn Littlejohn, Myers, Frankie Lee Sims and Elmore James Jr. on whose cuts Smitty played lead guitar. This album was recently reissued on CD and on the James cuts you can hear James say "take it Smitty" before the solos.
By his thirties Smitty had moved north to St. Louis. There he became lead guitar player for Big George (Brock) and the Houserockers at George's Club Caravan and followed by a stint with Little Weaver & The Dynamite. After a return to Mississippi he took up residence at Spraggins Hacienda Lounge leading his own band, Big Bad Smitty and the Upsetters. In the eighties he recorded an album for the JCE label entitled St. Louis On A HIgh Hill which was marred by terrible sound and saw little distribution, but is now reissued on Wolf CD 120.942 St. Louis Blues Today Vol 2.
In 1991 he recorded the album Mean Disposition released on the Black Magic label in Europe, the GENES label in the US and on AIM Records in Australia. Press reaction was extremely favorable. Blues and Rhythm: The Gospel Truth ran the Joel Slotnikoff interview with Smitty. Block Magazine in Holland and Il Blues in Italy have run that interview and put Smitty on their covers. The June '93 Living Blues features Smitty on the cover and a Bill Greensmith interview inside.
Smitty made his European debut at the prestigious Blues Estafette in Utrecht, Holland and in 1992 toured Switzerland and Italy for 18 days highlighted by appearances at the Festa New Orleans en Ascona and the Ravenna Blues Festival. He appeared on the Robert Johnson Memorial Blues Festival, and played U.S. clubs such as Blind Willie's in Atlanta, the Grand Emporium in Kansas City and Rumboogie Cafe in Memphis.
1993 saw a 26 day tour of Switzerland, Italy and Germany as well as appearances at the Burnley National Blues Festival in England, the Chicago Blues Festival, the Handzame Blues Festival in Belgium and the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas.
Big Bad Smitty first ran into legendary Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin at the Burnley Festival and the chemistry between them was powerful. On first seeing Smitty Sumlin exclaimed "It's the Wolf!." Sumlin was once again in his element with a singer who has the power to do the classic Wolf numbers and who knows them all! Hubert sang some, but seemed most content standing back by his amp playing his guitar like he used to do with Wolf. Blueprint Magazine in England put them on its cover. They have since appeared together at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis and at the King Biscuit Festival.
With band mates Bennie Smith, one of the finest guitarists on the planet, and Arthur Williams, one of the few remaining authentic Mississippi harmonica players, Big Bad Smitty is a blues artist of great power and authenticity. He plays the blues in the solid tradition of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Lightnin' Hopkins.
After his appearance at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Moline, Iowa in 1993, and a 1994 trip to the 5th Annual International East Coast Blues Festival in Byron Bay, Australia, Smitty suffered two strokes. After recuperating he made his first public appearance at the Dusk 'til Dawn Festival in Checoteh, OK over the Labor Day Weekend. He then returned to St. Louis for a surprise guest appearance at the St. Louis Blues and Heritage Festival.
In 1997 Smitty's Cold Blood CD (with special guest Hubert Sumlin) was released on HMG and in 2000 Unwired Roots with Arthur Williams and Tom Hall was released on Amphion.
On April 3, 2002, Big Bad Smitty, after a difficult battle with diabetes, passed away in Jackson, Mississippi. Donations to his funeral expenses can be sent to BluesAid/Big Bad Smitty Fund, Helena National Bank, POB 280, Helena, AK 72342 and are tax-deductible.