Guitarist Byther “Smitty” Smith is a genial, soft-spoken man whose mild disposition turns to fire when he hits the bandstand. His fretwork is distinguished by a keening fierceness, and he roars out his lyrics with a passionate intensity that sometimes borders on the frightening. Like Otis Rush, Smitty is especially adept at wringing every last ounce of agony from a minor-key blues, but the difference between the two is instructive: where Rush evokes a feeling of nightmarish terror with his quivering screams, Smitty sings as if he’s trying to force back the fires of hell. His lyrics range from the quirky–“Love Me Like I Love You”–to the nearly psychotic–“Wait and See” (perhaps the only studio rendering of a suicide note in modern blues history)–adding to the aura of agonized displacment. Smitty sometimes falls short in his choice of sidemen, but this gig may be an exception: he’s been trying to recruit David Lindsey, a young west-side guitarist with a brazen in-your-face tone and attitude to match. Tonight, 10 PM, Tip On Inn, 12132 Western, Blue Island; 708-385-9740.

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