If you are a fan of singer-songwriters and roots music, then may I make a suggestion to you? Head to Johnson Hall on May 3 to catch Maine’s own Putnam Smith as he performs there in Gardiner. He’s supporting his fourth album “Kitchen, Love,” which was released in 2013 on his own Itchy Sabot Records. During the winter months, he tours across the country (and into Canada, as well) playing his music to appreciative crowds but during the summer months he’s hard at work on his homestead (a log cabin) where he cuts and splits his own firewood, and has a “substantive” garden. In a recent telephone interview, Smith chatted about his life, his music and the fact that he prints up the jackets to his CDs on an antique letterpress.

Q: As an art teacher for 26 years, I’ve got to say that your printing of your CD packaging is really neat!

Smith: Yeah, that’s kind of a labor of love. I got a friend based out of Portland that does the art work and then there’s this place out in the Midwest where you can send them any digital image and they’ll put it into a photo engraving. Then I can just throw that into my letterpress and then I set the text by hand — letter by letter — so I’m able to print them up.

Q: Have you done that with all of your albums?

Smith: Yeah, I have, actually, and there’s a story behind the printing press I have. I got it on Uncle Henry’s and it turns out to be Uncle Henry’s — he was a printer by trade — he didn’t use it to print his catalogue, though, it’s a small press … but there’s a little bit of Maine history right there.

Q: Boy, I guess! And everything old is new again. The fact you’re able to take something that has that much history and create your own with it, that’s kind of cool.


Smith: Yeah, well I feel like that’s kind of a thread that runs through a lot of my life and work as a musician. Certainly I’m very steeped in a lot of old musical traditions — Appalachian, old-time, pre-bluegrass stuff — and that, too — as you said — the old is new again in musical circles, as well.

Q: You do breathe new life into it with your original material which is highly commendable.

Smith: Well, thank you. It’s one of those things where I’ve loved the old-time music for quite a while and I’ve been a songwriter even longer than that — I started writing songs when I was about 7 years old — so I feel like since I’ve gotten steeped in a lot of American roots music I’ve been blending those two interests: the singer-songwriter inclination that I have and have it informed by a lot of this beautiful American folk music.

Q: About this show you have coming up at Johnson Hall in Gardiner — have you ever performed there before?

Smith: Actually, the only time I played there before was when — in my former life of doing theater stuff — I was acting in a traveling production of “Macbeth” with the Theatre at Monmouth, I was actually playing an electric guitar playing “Witch.” But, no, I haven’t ever performed there doing my own stuff so I’m excited to be playing there with this cello player April Reed-Cox, from Waldoboro.

Q: Is she an opening act?


Smith: No, she’ll be playing with me. She’s actually one of the two cello players on the recording on “Kitchen, Love,” I’ve been doing a lot of shows with her. She’s pretty amazing and it’s a pretty neat sound when you get the banjo and cello together.

Q: Ever since Harry Chapin brought in a cellist into his band, I’ve been a huge fan of that instrument in modern music — it’s almost like having another voice, you know?

Smith: Yeah … yeah, I do. Yeah, cello is probably my favorite instrument — certainly in accompaniment — because with a cello you can get the low end so it serves the function of an up-right bass but then it also has this whole lyrical capacity to take solos and leads and also even can sound like a rhythm section sometimes. So it’s a versatile instrument.

Q: Speaking of instruments, how many do you play?

Smith: Well, I’m a multi-instrumentalist. I started writing songs on the piano at age 7 and then picked up the guitar at age 12 and banjo and mandolin in college. I feel like each instrument kind of pulls out different musical genres. Like piano goes into some bluesy, almost jazzy stuff and banjo obviously has an Appalachian sound to it, and guitar has more straight-forward singer-songwriter feel so even in terms of that, my music becomes eclectic just from writing on different instruments.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to get across to the folks reading this article about your show at Johnson Hall?

Smith: We’ve covered some good ground here but I am looking forward to coming to the Gardiner community, and it should be a fun night.

Lucky Clark has spent 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: