Bluegill – Out ‘n’ About (Nov 27, 2013)
ROGER “HURRICANE” WILSON & WILLIE “BIG EYES” SMITH @ BRACKINS BLUES BAR, February 13, 2009
It was the night before Valentine’s Day and a Friday the 13th, a perfect time to go hear some live Blues. So I drove down Hiway 129 South from Knoxville to Maryville and stopped off at Brackins Blues Bar, East Tennessee’s home of the Blues. Roger “Hurricane” Wilson and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith were going to be playing, and that sounded too good to let a 20-mile drive keep me from hearing them.
I had seen Roger numerous times in Knoxville and Maryville, playing ferocious guitar in his electric Blues trio. I had only seen Willie once before, playing drums in an All-Star band at the Blues Music Awards in the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, back in the day when it was still called the W. C. Handy Blues Awards. On this night, Roger was playing acoustic, and Willie was playing harmonica, and a magic night of Blues it was. Now I love raucous, shake-yer-booty electric Blues as much as the next guy, but you seldom get the opportunity to hear the Blues in its purest form, harking back to its earliest days, just two Bluesmen with a guitar and a harmonica, sitting side by side.
As far as I know, Roger and Willie have just started touring together recently, but you would have thought they had been playing together for years. Though separated by a generation, they were united in their love and reverence for classic Blues, and you could see that they were having a good time playing off each other. “Hurricane” is a big, burly guy who fits the role of a fiery electric Blues guitarist, but he sounds even more masterful, more intricate on acoustic. On a few songs, he broke out the slide for a greasy and demonic effect. Willie is slim and spry and was clearly having a ball, sometimes kicking up both heels while cutting loose on a mean harmonica riff. They swapped out singing the songs, with Willie taking the lion’s share.
The audience was really digging the show. A few got up and danced some, but most sat and listened and watched as these two Bluesmen demonstrated their mastery of their instruments while playing the real deal Blues. An extra treat was provided by one of the audience members, who happened to be Wallace Coleman, from Cleveland, Ohio, and a native of Morristown, Tennessee, who was down here visiting relatives. Wallace is a darn good harmonica player in his own right, having played for years in Robert Lockwood, Jr.’s band before forming his own. He is a friend of Willie’s and heard that he was in the area. They chatted during a break, and then Willie invited Wallace up to sing and play a couple tunes.
For lover’s of real Blues, it was a special night to be savored and remembered. Here’s hoping we see “Hurricane” and “Big Eyes” back this way again.