Music is about chasing a feeling - happiness, excitement, anger, sadness. Blues is the most intense combination of music and feeling. The power and emotion of the music transcends time and can be felt by people of all ages and ethnicities - the sole reason why the blues will survive and thrive for generations to come.
The blues, like all elements of life, is meant to grow, change and progress while retaining its essence. Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith and The House Bumpers accomplish just this with their latest album, “Drop the Hammer,” set for release March 15 on Big Eye Records.
Kenny honored the blues legends he admired by laying down a few traditional tracks. Much of his playing was molded by the teaching of his late father, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, who was Muddy Waters' drummer for more than 18 years, and it was important to give him this nod of respect. To know who you are and where you're going, one must honor and acknowledge where you came from.
This album focuses on contemporary subject matter while using modern, innovative sounds. As much as Kenny loves and respects traditional blues, he was compelled to take his music to a new dimension. Kenny didn’t pick cotton in the fields; he's a native Chicagoan, so the inspiration for this album was drawn from the rhythm of footsteps on jagged pavement, the soulful, shadowy noise of the city at night, and the soundtrack from the eras he grew up in to become the man and musician he is today. This music is transgenerational. It is raw. It will grab you by your core and will feel familiar yet foreign at the same time.
The first three tracks offer an unexpected, electrifying, eclectic mix of music and a glimpse of what's to come. “Head Pounder” grooves from the very beginning, but picks up a head of steam, becoming hard-driving blues. The element that truly flavors this song, while also setting the tone, is the sitar. It adds something that's unique in blues but fits in surprisingly, incredibly well. This front porch style blues song combines undertones of the deep South with the grit of Chicago's South Side.
“Hey Daddy” is a beautiful song that anyone - but especially parents - can relate to. The message is sweet, sincere and light-hearted, in contrast to a great deal of subject matter used in many blues songs. Kenny incorporated the vocals of his own children, Mae, Clara and Teddy Smith, to melt listeners' hearts.
The title track, “Drop the Hammer,” changes direction 180 degrees. It’s fresh, funky and dark. Its bold title offers insight into the content of the song, and the music, which incorporates modern sounds and technology, is just as intense as the lyrics. For instance, Kenny used Roland V drums. The rhythm section is tight and powerful, and the edgy lead guitar work completes the mood and tone, with female vocals adding extra layers and depth.
“Moment of Silence” is a poignant instrumental featuring music that expertly pairs sound with emotion, taking listeners on a journey through the stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The music brings buried emotion to light, is so real it hurts and leaves the listener with feelings of clarity and peace.
Collectively, the music just makes sense, with the musicians irrefutably providing the perfect feel for each song. Individually, each musician shines because of their talents and undeniable style. And the truth is, they had a blast making this music. The all-star cast of musicians features:
Greg Guy, the son of blues legend and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Buddy Guy, adds an energetic touch on guitar.
Sugar Blue, courtesy of Bumble Music, a world-renowned harmonica player, recorded with the Rolling Stones and partnered with Louisiana Red.
Felton Crews, one of Chicago’s top bass players, toured with jazz great Miles Davis and blues musician Charlie Musselwhite.
Billy Flynn, on guitar, is an internationally acclaimed touring guitarist who contributed to the soundtrack to the movie “Cadillac Records.”
Guy King, on guitar, toured with blues great Willie Kent and is one of Chicago’s finest.
Ari Seder is an extraordinary musician and blazing hot guitarist.
Luca Chiellini, on piano, organ and keyboard, is one of the best, most versatile blues musicians.
Omar Coleman, from Chicago’s West Side, blows killer harmonica.
Nelson Strange, known for being a powerhouse guitarist, brings the fire with each guitar lick.
Andrea Miologos, Dana Gordon and Kim Johnson bring fierce, colorful vocals to every song.
Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith is recognized as one of the world's top blues drummers. He's a progressive musician and talented producer whose numerous prestigious awards include a Grammy in 2011 for “Joined at the Hip,” with the late Pinetop Perkins and his father, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. This album is cold, hard proof, as Kenny displays great versatility in each song from writing, lyrical, vocal and drumming perspectives.
“Drop the Hammer” is a culmination of Kenny's true vision. The lyrics, arrangements, sounds and feel are a result of his life experiences as a musician and simply as a person who grew up in the same house in which Muddy Waters once lived in Chicago. Kenny is giving you his music on his terms - a piece of his being and soul. Sit back, relax and enjoy.