Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, the longtime drummer in bluesman Muddy Waters’ band and a Grammy winner in his own right, died Sept. 16 in Chicago after suffering a stroke. He was 75.
Born in Arkansas, Smith moved to Chicago as a teenager. Skilled on the harmonica and drums, he fronted his own trio and played harp on Bo Diddley’s 1956 Checker recording “Diddy Wah Diddy.” He played drums on Waters’ 1960 album of Big Bill Broonzy songs, and became a regular member of the singer-guitarist’s group in 1961.
After some time away from music in the late ’60s, he re-joined Waters’ unit, which also included pianist Pinetop Perkins. He appeared on a series of Waters’ Grammy-winning ’70s albums produced by Johnny Winter, including “Hard Again,” “I’m Ready” and “Muddy ‘Mississippi’ Waters Live.”
Smith later played with other veterans of the Waters band in the Legendary Blues Band; the group backed John Lee Hooker in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers.”
He began his solo recording career in 1995. His most recent release, 2010’s “Joined at the Hip,” was cut with pianist Perkins, and won a Grammy Award as best traditional blues album in February. Perkins passed away in March at the age of 97.