Barkin' Bill Smith | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Barkin' Bill Smith 

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BARKIN' BILL SMITH

Legend has it blues vocalist Barkin' Bill Smith got his nickname from veteran guitarist Homesick James. Homesick, if you didn't know, is one of the blues' great ironists, and Smith--who doesn't bark at all, but rather croons in a mellifluous baritone reminiscent of jazz balladeers like Johnny Hartman and Billy Eckstine--has an intriguing musical identity that can't be summed up in a single nickname. His onstage persona combines street-tough irascibility with hipster urbanity; although in recent years he's worked occasionally with jump-blues aggregations, which are more appropriate to his style, most of his Chicago career has been spent fronting rougher blues bands in various west-side jukes or sitting in at venues like the Delta Fish Market, at Jackson and Kedzie. In 1991 he appeared on guitarist Dave Specter's acclaimed Bluebird Blues, on Delmark; in 1994 he returned to the label as a leader and cut Gotcha! The recording revealed his vocal cords to be slightly the worse for wear, but he swung as easily as ever, whether he was romping through a jump 'n' jive party tune or growling over a three-chord back-alley blues progression. Although slowed by health problems (this gig fronting Big Bill Hickey & the Moneymakers will be one of his first north-side appearances in several years), Smith still projects a suave and somewhat tawdry elegance, like an aging roue: you're fully aware that his pose is equal parts pathos and flimflam, but you're charmed anyway. Sunday, 9 PM, B.L.U.E.S., 2519 N. Halsted; 773-528-1012. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by James Fraher.

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