One of my favorite things to do is reconnect with an artist over the years. An artist that is at the top of that list is singer/songwriter/guitarist, Chris Smither. He and I both began our respective careers in music (he making it, me reviewing it) when we were 20 years old, and both of us are still going strong doing what we love doing. Back in 2015 was our last conversation, so when I discovered that he was returning to Maine for a show in Gardiner at Johnson Hall on Friday, March 29, I requested another chat. On March 6, after returning from Alaska, Smither called me from his home in the Boston area. We began by talking about his latest CD, his 18th titled “Call Me Lucky,” his first studio album of new material in six years. There’s also a second disc in that double-CD set called “B Sides,” which reinterprets songs from the first disc, plus a very special cover: one of my all-time favorite Beatles’ songs.

Q: That cover of “She Said She Said” was amazing, I just loved that!
Smither: I think that might be my favorite on that “B Sides.” About three years ago, when they had that annual John Lennon Tribute at the Beacon Theatre in New York, they asked me if I’d do it and if I could do a couple of John Lennon songs and I said, “OK.” So I started working up “She Said She Said” and another one, and then I had to cancel because I wound up having this heart operation and I never got to play it; but I kept fiddling around with it. Well, Matt Lorenz (a.k.a. The Suitcase Junket, a musician on “Call Me Lucky”) and I were fiddling around with it and sort of got compulsive about it and kept playing it. One day a long-time friend, multi-instrumentalist and producer, David Goodrich, was walking by and he was listening, and he said, “Oh, time to record that!” (Chuckle)

Q: I’m awfully glad it was, that’s for sure. Another thing I noticed was that you played electric guitar on this album. Is that the first time you’ve done that?
Smither: Well, I play a little bit of electric, but I’m playing mostly acoustic. There’s only a couple of songs that I’m doing electric on, I think. But, no, it’s not the first time; I’ve played electric guitar probably on a dozen tracks over the years. But I’m still the acoustic guy — don’t worry! (Laughter)

Q: (Laughter) Okay, but I distinctly remember a certain other gentleman who freaked out his fan base when he picked up an electric guitar (Bob Dylan).
Smither: Oh yeah, you’re right (chuckle), but now he’s a multi-millionaire.

Q: Good point. Hey, what about …?!
Smither: “Go electric, man, I’ll make you a star!” That’s what George Papadopoulos used to say. He used to run The Unicorn, a coffeehouse in Boston: “Go electric and I’ll make you a star!” (Laughter)

Q: But you’ve been doing pretty good for five decades or more.
Smither: I’m comfortable.

Q: And that’s all that counts, man, that’s all that counts. Well, I suppose we should talk about the concert coming up soon.
Smither: Yeah, you’re right — which one is it?

Q: This one’s in Gardiner, Maine, at Johnson Hall. It’s billed as “An Evening With …” Is this going to be a solo performance or will you have the guys from the album backing you?
Smither: Nope, it’s just me.

Q: Well, with the songs you write that’s all you need — the melody and the lyrics are the most important parts. It’s nice having the embellishments of drums, bass and keyboards, but they’re not needed to make the impact greater.
Smither: Thank you for saying that, it’s what I look for. I’ll never forget this time once in 1982. I was playing at a festival in Ireland and John Sebastian was on the bill. I was really excited to see what (he) was like, because they said he was solo and he got up there and played all these Lovin’ Spoonful songs and I couldn’t tell the difference! I went, “What the hell does the band even do? This guy can pull it off all by himself!” It was amazing, and it was inspiring, too. So, I’ve kept that in mind for years.

Q: And, you now have 54 years under your belt. Did you ever think, when you started, that this would be something that would last this long for you?
Smither: No, I didn’t. I went through one period where I thought that it might last 10 years, but that I’d be rich enough to quit by the time that arrived (laughter). I thought I was gonna be a big pop star, I really did.

Q: You sound satisfied with where you are now, though.
Smither: Oh, yeah — I love my job, you know, and I’ve gotten to a point where I can be working either as much or as little as I want. I go out and I do what I do, and there are hundreds of people saying, “We love you!” What’s wrong with that?! (Chuckle)

Q: It doesn’t get any better than that.
Smither: No, it doesn’t.

Q: So,what can people expect to hear at Johnson Hall?
Smither: Oh, I’ll do most of the new record and that’ll get us through about half the show, I mean I mix them up with a bunch of other stuff, but of all the new songs that are on that record I’ll perform most of them and then a choice from the catalogue will round out the evening.

Q: And, that catalogue is kind of expansive, should one say?
Smither: It’s getting unwieldy! I have this little program going on now where I make it a point to go back and work on songs that I haven’t played for a while, because people call out requests and I realize that there’s only about half of them that I would dare try to play without wood-shedding them for a couple of days. All the most recent stuff I’ll be up on, it’s the older stuff that gets put out to pasture. It makes me happier to play stuff that’s current, that I’m actually working on, and when I’m happy it’s much more likely that I’m going to make (the audience) happy.

Q: Seeing you brought that up, is there anything you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Smither: Well, there’s nothing specific, just tell them I’m still at it and there’s more to come (laughter)!

 

Lucky Clark has spent 50 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.

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