Albert B. Smith was born in Bolivar County, Mississippi, on November 23, 1923. His family moved to Pace, Mississippi, in 1927. He danced with a jug band on the streets of Rosedale, Mississippi, when he was 7. He learned how to play the string bass in a school band after hearing Big Joe Williams and other Delta bluesmen at his mother's barrelhouse. After shipping out with the Merchant Marine in 1940, he arrived in Chicago in 1943. In 1945 he started what he referred to as a "bebop" band.