Jake Blount unearths Black history through folk music, using its sounds as a bridge to the future.
“I’m a white guy who loves Black folk music, and I’ve been trying to play that music for so long,” says Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. He says the song “Ain’t That a Shame” was his first thought when he saw the video for the 1992 single of the same title. Before being told “You don’t know history,” he notes that “the people that make history don’t know where they’re going” and what they “won’t be remembered for.” With a song like that in mind, he and other country musicians came together to work as a collective – the All-Star Band – on the new album, a collection of material that Smith says is far more than just an average collection of songs.
It took 20 years, but Smith got to play his music on his own terms. Now a songwriter and record producer, he’s made his first solo album, with The Band of Black and Gold. The six-song set is meant to show how Black music has evolved over the past 200 years in the American South. He sees it as a bridge toward a future of music that incorporates the best of both sides. And, because he’s been playing for his father for decades, he’s been able to tap into the knowledge his family had on how to play the music and, in turn, learn how to make it better.
“He taught me how to play,” says Smith, who has two sons, five grandchildren and a great-grandson, and who also plays the guitar. “My mom died when I was 10, and I had to help my dad clean the house. When he had all these ideas, I had to figure out how to make them work so he could say, ‘Now you know how to play the guitar.’”
When he was born, in 1953, Jimmie B. Smith had his first dream of recording music. He wanted to write songs like “You Are My Sunshine.” But his dreams