Guitarist Bennie Smith has been a staple in the world of St. Louis blues for 50 years. In addition to his own Shook Up album from Fedora, the native son of the musical city can be heard on Mean Disposition from Big Bad Smitty, "Shook Up Over You" from Jimmy "Soul" Clark, and "Boxtop" by Ike Turner. "Boxtop" was the first song recorded by Tina Turner, who was billed at the time as Little Ann.
Smith was born into a family of 14 children. The first instrument he played was a ukulele that a cousin passed on to him, and later he played an old acoustic guitar that was given to him by one of his brothers. He started picking up techniques and tips from musicians around St. Louis, first from Butch McCray. He met two brothers, named Doc Perry and George Perry, and soon stumbled upon Ace Wallace, who gave him instruction on how to handle the guitar. Soon he started performing with the Perry brothers and later won a spot in the Roosevelt Marks Band. Toward the latter half of the '50s, Smith became a member of Tommy Brown & the Teardrops. He played the Club Peacock in Atlanta with the band, and traveled to gigs in Florida and elsewhere in Georgia. Also in the '50s, Smith fronted a band that featured Chuck Bernard and Chuck Berry.
Smith's playing can be heard on a number of artists' recordings on labels such as Teek Records and Tune Town. He has performed with Aretha Franklin, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Little Milton, Bill Doggett, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Charles Brown, Rufus Thomas, Bobby "Blue" Bland, and Amos Milburn, among others. The Urban Soul of Bennie Smith, his first album, was released in 1993. For four consecutive years beginning in 1993, he appeared with Urban Blues Express at the Holland festival known as Blues Estafette. In addition to Smith on vocals and guitar, the band includes keyboardist Rory Johnson, vocalist and bassist Sharon Foehner, and vocalist and drummer Marty Spikener. ~ Linda Seida