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Chicago blues great Little Smokey Smothers dies

Singer-guitarist performed with Legendary Blues Band

Singer-guitarist Albert Abraham “Little Smokey” Smothers, a fixture of the Chicago blues scene who mentored members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, died Nov. 20 in Chicago of natural causes. He was 71.

Mississippi-born Smothers moved to the Windy City as a teen. His brother Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers became a well-known blues soloist. Influenced by B.B. and Albert King and jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, Little Smokey recorded with and accompanied such artists as Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and soul singer (and cousin) Lee “Shot” Williams.

In the early ’60s, Smothers began working with harmonica ace Paul Butterfield after seeing him play on the sidewalk in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Butterfield joined Smothers’ South Side band, and accompanied him on some Swedish radio recordings. Smothers also befriended University of Chicago student Elvin Bishop, a future member of Butterfield’s groundbreaking band, and taught him the fundamentals of blues guitar.

After retiring to raise a family, Smothers returned to performing in the late ’70s, playing the local clubs and touring as guitarist in the all-star Legendary Blues Band. He recorded for Dutch and German blues labels, and in 2000 he recorded the collaborative album “That’s My Partner” with Bishop for Alligator Records. Another joint set, “Chicago Blues Buddies,” followed in 2009.

Smothers appeared in Marc Levin’s film “Godfathers and Sons,” part of the Martin Scorsese-produced PBS series “The Blues” in 1992.

He is survived by his wife, two brothers, two sisters, three children and nine grandchildren.

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