Blessed with a lush, deeply burnished baritone that's seemingly the antithesis of the rough-hewn Chicago blues sound, Barkin' Bill Smith finally broke through in 1994 with his own debut album for Delmark. Influenced by the likes of Joe Williams (Count Basie's smooth crooner, not the gruff nine-string guitarist), Brook Benton, and Jimmy Witherspoon, the natty dresser grew up in Mississippi and stopped off to sing in East St. Louis and Detroit before settling in the Windy City.
Homesick James anointed Smith with his enduring stage handle in 1958 when the two shared a stage. After scuffling for decades on the South and West sides, Smith finally hooked up with young guitarist Dave Specter & the Bluebirds and made his recorded debut on the band's 1991 Delmark release, Bluebird Blues. After leaving Specter's employ, Smith's own album bow, Gotcha!, emerged three years later.