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Chris Smither

Like John Hammond and a handful of other musicians whose careers began in the 1960s blues revival, guitarist, singer, and songwriter Chris Smither can take pride in the fact that he's been there since the beginning. Except for a few years when he was away from performing in the '70s, Smither has been a mainstay of the festival, coffeehouse, and club circuits around the U.S., Canada, and Europe since his performing career began in earnest in the coffeehouses in Boston in the spring of 1966. Smither is best known for his great songs, items like "Love You Like a Man" and "I Feel the Same," both of which have been recorded by Bonnie Raitt. Smither is still, to some extent, an unheralded master of modern acoustic blues. Fortunately, his recordings and festival bookings from the '90s into the 21st century, as well as acclaimed late-period efforts like Hundred Dollar Valentine (2012) and Call Me Lucky (2018), have elevated his profile to a higher level than he ever enjoyed previously. Smither's earliest awareness of blues and folk music came from his parents' record collection. In a 1992 interview, he recalled it included albums by Josh White, Susan Reed, and Burl Ives. After a short stint taking piano lessons, he switched to ukulele when he discovered his mother's old instrument in a closet. The young Smither was passionately attached to the ukulele, and years later it helps to explain the emotion and expertise behind his unique fingerpicking guitar style. He discovered blues music when he was 17 and heard a Lightnin' Hopkins album, Blues in the Bottle. The record was a major revelation to him, and he subsequently spent weeks trying to figure out the intricate guitar parts. Smither moved to Boston after realizing he was a big fish in a small pond in the New Orleans folk/coffeehouse circuit of the mid-'60s. In addition, acoustic blues pioneer Ric Von Schmidt had recommended that Smither check out the Boston folk-blues scene. Smither recorded his first couple of albums for the Poppy label in 1970 and 1971, I'm a Stranger Too and Don't It Drag On. In 1972, he recorded a third album, Honeysuckle Dog, for United Artists, which finally saw release on the Heavenly label in the mid-2000s. On the sessions for that album, he was joined in the studio by his old friends Bonnie Raitt and Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John. After a long bout with alcoholism, Smither launched his recording career again in the late '80s, although he hadn't stopped performing. His return to a proper recording career, due to a deal with Flying Fish Records, didn't happen again until 1991, when the label released Another Way to Find You, a folk-blues album. Smither recorded It Ain't Easy for the Adelphi label in 1984; the album was re-released ten years later. Since then, he's more than proved his mettle as an enormously gifted songwriter, releasing albums mostly of his own compositions for the Flying Fish, Hightone, and Signature Sounds labels. Smither's albums during the '90s and into the 21st century include Happier Blue (1993, Flying Fish), Up on the Lowdown (1995, Hightone), Leave the Light On (2006, Signature Sounds), and Time Stands Still (2009, Signature Sounds), a career highlight. Smither concentrated on two separate projects in 2011: a collection of live tracks called Lost and Found, and a covers album titled What I Learned in School. The full-length Hundred Dollar Valentine followed in 2012. He celebrated his 50th anniversary as a performing musician in 2014 with the compilation Still on the Levee and the book Chris Smither Lyrics 1966-2012. That same year, Signature Sounds honored him with a tribute album, Link of Chain: A Songwriters' Tribute to Chris Smither, which featured artists like Josh Ritter, Dave Alvin, Louden Wainwright III, and Bonnie Raitt covering his songs. Call Me Lucky, Smither's first album of original material since 2009, arrived in March 2018, and two years later he issued More from the Levee, a continuation of 2014's career-spanning Still on the Levee.
© Richard Skelly /TiVo


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