Jimi “Prime Time” Smith was born in Chicago in 1959 to his mother, Johnnie Mae Smith and his father, Andy Smith. Jimi’s music talents seemed to come naturally, considering he grew up in a musical family. Jimi’s mother, who’s musical name was “Johnnie Mae Dunson aka; The Big Boss Lady,” was a major force in the shaping of Chicago blues back in the 1950’s, working alongside of the infamous American blues musician and songwriter, Jimmy Reed, as his song writer, drummer and manager.
Johnnie Mae Dunson played with many of the old blues cats such as Albert King, J.B. Hutto and Jimmy Reed. Jimmy Reed was not only a musical mentor to Jimi “Prime Time” Smith, but Jimmy was also sort of like a father figure to young Jimi when he was a young boy growing up. At the very young age of 8, Jimi made his very first recording “Young Boy with the Blues.”
Jimi wasn’t really into recording just yet, but later began playing guitar at age 12 under the teachings of Jimmy Reed, Hubert Sumlin and Eddie Taylor. Jimmy was the first one to teach young Jimi how to play guitar, but Eddie and Hubert were the ones that helped Jimi find his own style. During Jimi’s young years, he was exposed to many more blues legends such as Tina Turner, Fred Below, Phil Upchurch, Wayne Bennett, a man he used to call Uncle Mr. Willie Dixon and many more.
When Jimi was just 14, he played his very first major show at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1973 playing in a slot between Charles Mingus and Ray Charles. During Jimi’s teens, he began touring with Jimmy Reed playing in many clubs from 1973-1976, as well as the Ann Arbor Blues Festival from the cities of Chicago to Detroit. After touring in Detroit for a while, later returning to Chicago, Jimi played his last show with Jimmy Reed at the High Chaparral. At this time, Jimi put his focus back on school.
At the ages of 17 and 18, Jimi began playing around the blues clubs of Chicago. Jimi played with the likes of Big Walter Horton, Floyd Jones, Playboy Vinson, Sunnyland slim, Jimmie Johnson, Queen Slivia , Playboy Benson, Eddie Taylor, Fenton Robertson, and many more Chicagoland blues legends. In 1979, at the age of 20, Jimi “Prime Time” Smith made the decision to relocate to the Twin Cities and began to really leave his footprint on the blues scene and quickly became known as one of the best and finest blues guitarists.
When Jimi first arrived in the Twin Cities in 1979 until 1985, Jimi started playing the blues with an old family friend ‘Lazy’ Bill Lucas, and Tom Burns creating an immediate impact on the burgeoning blues scene. 1981-1985 joining forces with Lynwood Slim, Bob Bingham, to form a band called ‘Lynwood Slim and the Shuffles’ touring the five state area.
From 1985 until 1989, Jimi formed the new band ‘R-Section’ with drummer Donald‘Hye Pockets’ Robertson (formerly of the Luther Allison band) and while touring Germany recorded their first and only album, ‘Not 4 Sale’. Jimi’s reputation continued to grow as one of the finest blues guitarist in the area. Jimi was sought after to play and back up such legends as Etta James, Albert King, Lady Bianca, Otis Rush, Albert Collins and ‘Baby Due’ Caston.
From 1989 through 1990, Jimi joined “Big Walter Smith and The Groove Merchants”. As with Jimmy Reed, Big Walter Smith quickly became a father figure to young Jimi “Prime Time” Smith. He was so much of a father figure and because they both have the same last name, some people actually thought that Big Walter was Jimi’s biological father. Also, during this time Jimi honed his presence as one of the greatest blues guitarists playing around town. He traveled abroad to Europe with musicians such as ‘Big’ Jay McNeely, Eddie ‘Clean Head’ Vinson and once again with Lynwood Slim.
Jimi reunited with his old friend Michael DuBois who was playing at Blues Alley in Minneapolis where he joined the band ‘True Blue’ (Paul Mayasich, John Wright, and Michael Pendergast)A well known house band for the club, True Blue reconfigured and formed a new group with Jimi and Paul, along with Jeff Rogers called ‘The Rhythm Doctors’. Where they recorded their first recording for Cold Wind Records called ‘Malpractice’.
Jimi joins the house band at Famous Dave’s from 1992 to 1994 and records with ‘The Famous Dave’s All-Stars’.
From 1994 through 1998 with a strong following. Jimi returned to Blues Alley with his own band ‘Jimi “Prime Time” Smith and the “Prime Time’ Players. Here the band found their own groove and recorded their first live album ‘Give Me Wings’ on Atomic Theory Records. They enjoyed a good deal of success playing around the Twin Cities and soon expanded into Chicago market at the Chicago Blues Festival playing with Jimi’s mom Johnnie Mae Dunson Smith. Other hits include “U for me,” which was recorded with guest harmonica player Tom Burns; “When You’re Doin’ Alright,” which was a rendition of his mother’s; “One Woman Too Many;” “Soul Fixin’ Man;” and many more.
Jimi continued to play at the Blues Alley until it closed in 2001, and then Jimi continued playing throughout the Twin Cities and Chicago with his mother Johnnie Mae Dunson and his new band ‘The Chicago Flavor’ with drummer Allen Kirk, guitarist John McGhee, bass John Lindberg and keyboardist Dave Wiegert. They expanded their touring to include Michigan, Florida, New York and Chicago. Jimi and Johnnie Mae Dunson also had the pleasure of playing with Paul Shaffer, Buddy Miles, Vernon Reed, and Elvis Costello at ‘The Apollo Theater’ in Harlem, New York for ‘A Great Night in Harlem’ benefit sponsored by the ‘Jazz Foundation of America’. Jimi was again sought after to back up notable star talents, Dr John, Devell Crawford and others.
Jimi’s mother, Johnnie Mae Dunson Smith, aka; The Big Boss Lady, passed away in 2007. Jimi has continued to make her proud by teaching and performing the blues.
After taking some time off to regroup, Jimi recorded another Album, ‘Back on Track’ for Coldwind Records, which enjoyed minimal success due to lack of backing. Jimi continued to play and back national and local musicians, Dr.John, Devell Crawford, Magic Slim, Shawn Lil’ Slim and many others.
Jimi’s most recent works:
Currently you can find Jimi “Prime Time” Smith:
~Mentoring the Blues Kids of the MN Blues Society by assisting with educating and promoting the past, present and future of blues music in Minnesota.
~Playing along smoothly with “The Dee Miller Band” and with “The Chicago Flavor”.
~Jimi also co-hosts a couple of ‘Open Jam’ nights, one on Monday nights at Shaw’s Bar and Grill in Minneapolis and the other is Tuesday nights at Wilbeski’s Legendary Blues Saloon in St. Paul MN. If you have the talent, come join Jimi at anyone of these venues and let Jimi coach you.
~Jimi has always performed off and on throughout the years with Big Walter Smith and the Groove Merchants. After the sad passing of Big Walter Smith on July 24, 2012, in honor of his life and legacy, the mic has now been passed down to Jimi ensuring that Big Walter’s music will live on. Jimi “Prime Time” Smith is now the featured vocalist, and guitarist with Big Walter Smith’s Band “The Groove Merchants Band” ………..and the show must go on.
~2014 Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame Performer Inductee
~2007 Minnesota Rock and Country Hall of Fame inductee
- Did you know? Jimmy Reed died on this day in 1976.. (downinthegroovemusic.wordpress.com)