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Strictly judging from the lyrical sentiment of his recordings, it might be wise not to make Chicago guitarist Byther Smith angry. Smitty's uncompromising songs are filled with threats of violence and ominous menace (the way blues used to be before the age of political correctness), sometimes to the point where his words don't even rhyme. They don't have to, either -- you're transfixed by the sheer intensity of his music. Smitty came to Chicago during the mid-'50s after spending time toiling on an Arizona cattle ranch. He picked up guitar tips from J.B. Lenoir (his first cousin), Robert Jr. Lockwood, and Hubert Sumlin, then began playing in the clubs during the early '60s. Theresa's Lounge was his main haunt for five years as he backed Junior Wells; he also played with the likes of Big Mama Thornton, George "Harmonica" Smith, and Otis Rush.
A couple of acclaimed singles for C.J. (the two-part "Give Me My White Robe") and BeBe ("Money Tree"/"So Unhappy") spread his name among aficionados, as did a 1983 album for Grits, Tell Me How You Like It. The rest of the country then began to appreciate Smitty, thanks to a pair of extremely solid albums on Bullseye Blues: 1991's Housefire (first out on Grits back in 1985) and I'm a Mad Man two years later. With two sets on Delmark and a stepped-up touring itinerary, Smitty really hit his stride. He continued with strong performances and recordings during the new millennium, issuing two albums on Black & Tan, 2001s Smittys Blues and 2004s Throw Away the Book; returning to Delmark for 2008s Blues on the Moon: Live at the Natural Rhythm Social Club; and issuing Got No Place to Go on Fedora, also in 2008.
Byther Smith (born April 17, 1933, Monticello, Mississippi, United States) is an American blues musician, noted for his gritty style and uncompromising delivery.
Born the sixth oldest of seven children, Smith immigrated to Chicago in the mid 1950s. Although he worked for a candy company, Smith's real passion was music. He played bass for a three-piece jazz combo for a few years, but he eventually got a spot playing rhythm guitar for Otis Rush. He also backed Junior Wells, Big Mama Thornton and George "Harmonica" Smith. In the early 1960s, Smith began to take the guitar more seriously and learned from J. B. Lenoir, Robert Lockwood, Jr., and Hubert Sumlin.
After years playing in clubs all over the United States and the world, a demo tape Smith recorded became the album Tell Me How You Like It, released by the Texas based Grits record label. The release brought him European opportunities, and his next album on a UK record label Addressing The Nation with The Blues appeared on JSP Records. In 1995, Smith retired from his job at Economy Folding Box Company after twenty-five years, allowing him to focus fully on music.
Delmark Records boss Bob Koester observed, "There's a mellowness there that is disappearing in all but B.B. King".
Smith still records and tours frequently.
Byther Smith is a first cousin of fellow blues musician and Monticello native, J. B. Lenoir.