Our ‘Small Venue Heroes’ feature could almost have been invented for Chris Smither. Since before releasing his debut album ‘I’m a Stranger Too!’ way back in 1970, Smither has been working the folk clubs, art houses and coffee shops of the USA as well as being a frequent visitor to Europe. A quick glance at his website shows that even at the age of 77, Smither is still regularly gigging. That is all the more remarkable for the fact that between his second album ‘Don’t It Drag On’ released in 1971 and his third, the highly acclaimed ‘It Ain’t Easy’ released in 1984, Smither reports in his biography that “Basically I was drunk for 12 years”. Yet despite this and the fact that he was dropped by his record company before his third album ‘Honeysuckle Dog’ was released, he continued to perform mainly around New England folk clubs. ‘Honeysuckle Dog’ was finally released in 2004, a mere 31 years later.
Although ‘It Ain’t Easy’ restarted Smither’s recording career in 1984, it was to prove to be a slow burner with a live album ‘Another Way to Find You’ not following until 1991. However, since ‘Happier Blue’ in 1993, Smither has released a regular succession of excellent albums. His critical appreciation and standing has always outstripped his commercial success, although a 10-year spell on Hightone Records between 1993 and 2003 did raise his profile somewhat and led to him touring with Dave Alvin and Tom Russell among others.
Despite his longevity, Smither’s acoustic blues and folk guitar style has never really changed very much. Influenced from a young age by the likes of Son House, Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins, Smither has combined his accomplished guitar playing with an equally impressive gift for songwriting. From early on, Bonnie Raitt was a fan and recorded Smither’s ‘Love Me Like A Man’ for her second album ‘Give It Up’. Emmylou Harris, Dave Alvin and Diana Krall are also amongst the artists that have recorded Smither’s songs.
Chris Smither is a spellbinding and mesmeric live performer. He visibly loses himself in his songs and playing, and his loyal fanbase will invariably do the same. He is also an extremely personable man, generous with his time and always available after his gigs to chat and sign his merchandise. I have seen him play a number of times over the years and apart from at The Cambridge Folk Festival, you could count the audience in tens, rather than hundreds. This has been his life for decades, making him a genuine ‘Small Venue Hero’.
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