Chicago still has a lot of blues musicians scuffling in the clubs waiting for their big break, and guitarist Byther Smith may well be the sleeper of the bunch. Smitty can be unpredictable, but when he’s on, his guitar work is vintage early-60s Chicago fire–eccentric arpeggios laid over a base of sustained phrases and aggressive harmonic combinations–and his voice roars as if he’s trying to extinguish the flames of hell through sheer willpower. But the real impact comes from his lyrics: he doesn’t even bother rhyming them half the time, preferring to let the imagery spill out in torrents. Intense, sometimes suicidal, his words nonetheless resonate with a power that’s ultimately affirming; not incidentally, they often cite music as one of his primary reasons to go on living. Offstage, Smith’s a soft-spoken man of gentle disposition. God knows what he does to transform himself into the haunted wretch who writes and sings those songs, but I hope he keeps doing it long enough for the general public to pick up on him. Saturday, 9 PM, Buddy Guy’s Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 4270333 or 427-1190.

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