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Still Killing the Blues

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Still Killing the Blues Image courtesy of Chris Smither/Jeff Fasano

Editor's Note: We corrected the date to March 26, and apologize for the error.

ROCKLAND Legendary singer-songwriter Chris Smither is returning to Maine to perform at the Strand in Rockland on March 26 at 7:30 p.m., as a part of his ongoing tour. Smither is known for his bluesy folk with roots in Louisiana, where he grew up, but he's no stranger to the North East, living in Boston for a time. He's played at the Strand is has been a guest at Blue Hill's the Left Bank when it was the hotspot of the music scene in Maine.

ROCKLAND Legendary singer-songwriter Chris Smither is returning to Maine to perform at the Strand in Rockland on March 24 at 7:30 p.m., as a part of his ongoing tour. Smither is known for his bluesy folk with roots in Louisiana, where he grew up, but he's no stranger to the North East, living in Boston for a time. He's played at the Strand is has been a guest at Blue Hill's the Left Bank when it was the hotspot of the music scene in Maine.

He was kind enough to agree to a phone interview with The Maine Edge to talk about his upcoming tour, his musical process and looking back on his career. Back in November, Smither cancelled a few of his live performances in order to have a valve replacement all is well.

'I'm running on all cylinders,' said Smither. 'That's what a valve-job will do for you.'

He wanted to reassure his fans that he's doing fine.

The show at the Strand will feature Smither solo. And one thing that he says has changed over the years is that liver performances are somewhat easier.

'I'm better at it, it's true. A lot better at it than I used to be. It takes a long time to learn that an audience-performer relationship is not adversarial,' he said. 'The audience wants you to be good. It's not some kind of test. Took a long time for me to learn it at any rate. I'm much more at ease.'

The dawning of social media has also changed how he interacts with his fans.

'You're so much more in touch with the audience. The internet changes everything. You sort of feel like you know all these people,' said Smither.

Another change he's noticed is in the landscape of his fans.

'For a long time, the audience was getting old along with me. But now there are 20- and 30-year-olds and they were never there before,' he said. '[They'll say] I grew up on your music.' It's a strange thing to hear, but I don't know why it should surprise me. Sometimes they'll tell me, Your records were the only ones I liked [from my parents' collection]. Makes me feel good. It's hard for me to tell how much has changed because the audience has changed, and how much is I've changed and how I relate to the audience. It's more comfortable now.'

The music industry was hard to break into when Smither was first starting out, and not much has changed. When he was young, he sought out the advice of one of his musical idols, Eric von Schmidt, who gave him the pivotal advice to travel to New England and join the music scene here. And now Smither has some advice for those looking to make a living with their music.

'First thing to remember: it's supposed to be fun. There's no other reason to do this. It's too hard,' said Smither. 'If it's not fun, you're doing something wrong, you're in the wrong business, or [you're] not doing it the right way. You're supposed to be having a good time.

'Don't learn how to do anything else,' he said. 'Sure as shooting, if there's something more secure, you'll do it.

'Patience is rewarded,' he said. 'Half the people you see that succeeded to the point where they're making a I living, I don't mean a great living necessarily some people do but people who make a living at it stuck with it and stayed. There is no faster way to be forgotten than to quit.'

Smither is known as much for his intricate guitar stylings as he is for his poetic lyrics, but for him the music always comes before the words.

'Music almost every time. That sets the framework in which everything happens. Not everyone works like that,' said Smither. 'I get a guitar part or harmonic rhythm and play through it and play through it, then scat sing against it nonsense, just trying to find the melody line. Once you get that, the nonsense syllables themselves will teach you where the rhymes have to fall and all of a sudden something pops out. I try not to pay too much attention, but you write it down. If you pay too much attention to what's happening in the beginning you tend to scare it off. The songs in the beginning are kind of shy creatures. They don't like to be analyzed. There comes a moment when the song is half written before you have any idea what it's about. There comes a moment where it opens up like a book, and I say, I see what's going on here.' It's a part of your brain you're not really on speaking terms with that you're trying to deal with.'

Unlike many artists painters, novelists, sculptors musicians are in the unique position to be constantly re-evaluating and experiencing their work. Smither notes that it's interesting to revisit work he created when he was in his 20s decades later.

'The songs change and get a chance to grow up with you. The emphasis changes everything and moves with you. You get to recreate all the time. It's an ephemeral medium,' said Smither. 'That's one of the reasons recording scares so many musicians. They don't want to commit it. But it's just a snapshot of what's going on and it doesn't mean that's the way it has to be from now on.'

When recording his 50-year retrospective in 2014, he re-recorded songs he had written when he was younger, including one of the first songs he ever wrote when he was 19.

'It's amazing. You sit there and say, How did I know that?' You didn't know it. It didn't mean that then,' said Smither. 'But it still holds together. It's still valid. It's kind of an infuriating point of view to someone on the other end [of the age spectrum]. You see these kids now, doing amazing things. You listen to that and [the musician] doesn't have the remotest idea of what he's doing.'

But he says that getting old and still writing and recording has brought another truth to light.

'That's another thing being a ripe-old-age has taught: Remember, you have more time than you think you do,' said Smither.

When he is not busy being a troubadour, Smither enjoys taking pictures and reading.

'I read a lot anything. Everything. History novels to trashy fiction,' he said.

As for music, he will listen to whatever is playing.

'There are still people I look forward to putting out new records. Bonnie Raitt from the old days. I love Mark Knopfler everyone thought of him as Mr. Rock & Roll and turns out he's a closet folky,' said Smither.

As for people he'd like to play on stage with, Smither said that Knopfler was on the list, as was Tom Petty.

SUBHEAD: Discography

Smither has an impressive discography, having released 15 studio albums, and he's still writing songs to this day. In 2014, he released a two-disc retrospective of his work that was recorded in New Orleans with new recordings of 24 of his previously released songs.

That same year the book 'Chris Smither Lyrics 1966-2012' came out, featuring not only the poetic lyrics to all of his work, but images of Smither and performance memorabilia from his career.

I'm a Stranger, Too! 1971

Don't it Drag On 1972

It Aint Easy 1984

Another Way to Find You 1991

Up on the Lowdown -1995

Small Revelations 1997

Drive You Home Again 1999

Live as I'll Ever Be 2000

Train Home 2003

Honeysuckle Dog (recorded in 1973) 2005

Leave the Light On 2006

Time Stands Still 2009

Lost and Found 2011

Hundred Dollar Valentine 2012

Still on the Levee 2014

Last modified on Tuesday, 08 March 2016 20:16

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