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If sounding a lot like Jimmy Reed were a crime, fellow blues singer-guitarist Otis "Smokey" Smothers* would be public enemy number one (with George Reeves, Jr. serving as his accomplice, but that's a post for another time). As disparaging as that may sound, it's not meant as a put-down for either Reed or Smothers. I've always been a fan of the man who gave us "Big Boss Man," "Bright Lights, Big City," and "Baby, What You Want Me to Do," among other classics of the genre, but I've also consistently been interested in blues artists who operate in the stylistic schools of other performers and listening for subtle variations in their interpretations of that particular mode of expression. In the field of prewar blues, Charlie Patton and Willie Brown come to mind, for example. So even though many of the tracks on this album possess that distinctive Reed shuffle, this can at least be partially attributed to King Records' desire to have a competing artist whose music was in a similar bag. The label's push for blues of this variety even led to Smothers beating Reed at his own game in some cases since he was a stronger singer, a technically superior guitarist, and didn't need to have the songs' lyrics spoken into his ear during bouts of drunkenness in the studio.
smokey smothers
SMOKEY SMOTHERS, CIRCA 1980

Although never a part of the Chicago blues scene's upper echelon, Smothers earned his stripes by playing with several significant musicians during the 1950s and 1960s, including Howlin' Wolf, Big Boy Spires, and Henry Strong. As with many of his contemporaries, he originally hailed from Mississippi, but moved north during the tail end of the Great Migration after World War II. After companies such as Chess and Parrot Records rejected Smothers' overtures to record under his own name as a bandleader, he agreed to a contract with Cincinnati-based King Records and was assigned to their Federal subsidiary. His first recording session in 1960 yielded enough material for several singles as well as an album, the hideously rare Sings the Backporch Blues. A follow-up session in 1962 produced a few more 45s. Neither the singles nor the LP sold particularly well, and apparently King was pressing a limited amount of vinyl at the time, with both factors contributing to the scarcity of everything that Smothers had recorded for the label. This CD reissue contains the original album in its entirety, all of the guitarist's singles from 1962, and numerous alternate takes. It also presents several of the songs as they were originally recorded. In some cases, this means that the tracks are the full-length versions with their introductions left intact. In others, listeners familiar with the original 45s and long player will find the intrusive electric bass overdubs that appeared on some of the performances to be conspicuously and thankfully absent.