Artist In Residence: Connie Smith

September 12, 2011

Connie Smith shared the stage with some of her favorite female country artists during her third and final show as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s 2011 artist-in-residence.

“Tonight’s show is about me and the girls,” Smith said at the outset of the September 12 concert in the museum’s Ford Theater. “The girls that have influenced me, and the girls that have come after me-that have become friends of mine and sing some of my music every now and then.”

Recognizing her predecessors, Smith sang Jean Shepard’s 1955 hit “I Thought of You” before calling upon Shepard to sing “Slippin’ Away,” a Bill Anderson composition that Shepard popularized in 1973. Smith explained that an early career break came in 1963 when she won a talent contest in Ohio by singing “I Thought of You.” First prize included five silver dollars and the opportunity to sing on a Grand Ole Opry package show, which led to an invitation from Anderson to come to Nashville.

Smith thanked Shepard, a new member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, for blazing a path for women in country music. “She has very much been an influence in my life,” Smith said. “I love the purity of her voice. You can hear every word and they ring true as a bell.”

Later Smith acknowledged Kitty Wells for breaking barriers for women and sang Wells’s 1952 groundbreaking hit, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” Smith was joined on the song by Shepard and other special guests Tanya Tucker, Martina McBride, and the Quebe Sisters, all of whom were eager to pay tribute to the night’s headliner.

“This is my hero right here,” Tucker said of Smith, explaining that she had listened to all of Smith’s records. Tucker jokingly admitted that she had “stolen everything” from Smith, before humorously imitating Smith’s distinctive vocal phrasing.

Tucker performed the Bill Anderson-Jan Howard composition “I Never Once Stopped Loving You,” which she learned from Smith’s 1970 Top Five recording. At Smith’s request Tucker also performed “Changes,” a modest hit Tucker co-wrote in the early 1980s.

Introducing McBride, Smith noted that the two of them share a deep love for songs, and that each is very particular about the material they choose to perform. “She sings every song she sings like she means it,” Smith said.
They performed a duet of “Once a Day,” Smith’s signature song, which McBride covered on her 2005 covers album, Timeless. “Once a Day,” the third Anderson composition of the evening, is the only song Smith performed on all three shows of her artist-in-residence series. The themes, surprise guests, and repertoire of each show varied greatly, with Smith displaying her devotion to the steel guitar on the August 22 show and highlighting her close relationship with songwriters on August 29.

At Smith’s request, McBride also performed “Where I Used to Have a Heart,” one of her lesser-known singles, from 1995.

While Smith’s music and career has been an inspiration to veteran country stars Tucker and McBride, she also is passing the torch to Grace, Sophia, and Hulda Quebe, youthful siblings from Fort Worth, Texas, who all play the fiddle and sing in three-part harmony. Smith introduced the Quebe Sisters Band by hailing the way they are keeping traditional country music alive; she reiterated that country music is in good hands after the Quebes performed Smith’s 1965 hit “If I Talk to Him.”

Smith also performed several songs on her own, backed by her band, the Sundowners, consisting of steel guitarist Gary Carter, bassist Rod Ham, guitarist Rick Wright, and drummer Ric McClure. Acoustic guitarist Mark Casstevens and multi-instrumentalist Paul Martin also sat in for most of the evening.

Smith opened with her 1966 smash “Ain’t Had No Lovin’” and followed it with “A Heart Like You,” a new song from her album Long Line of Heartaches. Both were written by Dallas Frazier, who has supplied Smith with sixty-nine songs over the course of her career. Frazier was seated in the capacity audience that also included Smith’s husband, Marty Stuart, and fellow Opry stars Ricky Skaggs and The Whites.

Smith also performed “Ain’t You Even Gonna Cry,” “The Key’s in the Mailbox,” “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own,” Burning a Hole in My Mind,” and “Anymore.” She closed by singing a new gospel number, “Take My Hand,” backed by her daughters Jodi Seyfried, Jeanne Haynes, and Julie Barnick. After receiving a standing ovation Smith encored with the Martha Carson classic “Satisfied.”

-Michael Gray


August 29, 2011

Connie Smith highlighted her close relationship with songwriters during the second of three concerts as the 2011 artist-in-residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The program highlighted Smith’s knack for finding outstanding country songs while emphasizing her enthusiastic support for those who write them.

A tradition of the artist-in-residence series is that special guests aren’t revealed prior to the program, lending the evening an element of surprise. To the delight of a reverent, occasionally rowdy audience in the museum’s Ford Theater, Smith informed the crowd that songwriters Dallas Frazier, Kostas, and her husband, Marty Stuart, would join her on stage for segments of the concert.

“This week is kind of about the songs,” Smith said. “I’m so proud to have some great songwriters who are actually a part of my new CD.”

In her unassuming manner, Smith also established that she is a formidable songwriter as well. She opened the show with “You and Me,” a song she co-wrote with Stuart that appears on her fifty-third album, Long Line of Heartaches, released six days before the concert on Sugar Hill Records.

In all, Smith performed nine of her own compositions: four she co-wrote with Stuart, one she co-wrote with Kostas and Stuart, one she co-wrote with Curtis Wright, and three she wrote by herself. One of the latter, “I’ll Never Get Over You,” was the first song she ever wrote; it later appeared on her 1966 album, Miss Smith Goes to Nashville, a favorite album of Stuart’s mother.

Another song, “Constantly,” came from Smith’s 1976 album I Don’t Want to Talk It Over Anymore. Yet another, “If You’re Gonna Go,” has never been recorded; Smith said she wrote it for Dolly Parton but never had the nerve to pitch it to her. All three songs were performed in intimate fashion with Smith singing to the accompaniment of Stuart’s acoustic guitar.

Her set also included two songs written by Bill Anderson, who helped Smith launch her career in 1964 and who composed many of her early hits and album cuts. “Bill Anderson brought me to Nashville, and he’s one of our finest songwriters,” Smith said. “I’ve recorded thirty-three of his songs at this point.”

As her second song, she performed Anderson’s “Tiny Blue Transistor Radio,” which was among the first four tracks Smith recorded in 1964 that helped her get signed to RCA Records. It appeared on her self-titled 1965 debut album. Later she performed another Anderson song, 1964’s “Once a Day,” which was the first debut song by a country female singer to reach #1.

Before introducing Kostas, Smith performed “I’m Not Blue,” a song written by Kostas, Smith, and Stuart that appears on Long Line of Heartaches. The trio wrote the song while Smith and Stuart were visiting Kostas’s ranch in Montana.

“We were sitting out on the patio with a creek running by, with deer in the field and an eagle flying over,” she said. “We wrote some songs, and ‘I’m Not Blue’ was one of them.”

At Smith’s request, Kostas came on to sing “Blame It on Your Heart”-a song he co-wrote with Harlan Howard that Patty Loveless turned into a #1 hit in 1993-backed by Smith’s Sundowners band: pedal steel guitarist Gary Carter, bassist Rod Ham, drummer Ric McClure, and Fender electric guitarist Rick Wright. Acoustic guitarist Mark Casstevens and multi-instrumentalist Paul Martin occasionally joined the band, too.

After Kostas’s song, Smith performed “That Makes Two of Us,” with Kostas on harmony. He co-wrote the song with Loveless and her husband Emory Gordy, and Smith heard it because she had asked Kostas to send her some tapes of his demos, “just so I could listen to him sing ... I love his voice so much.”

Then Stuart emerged and joined Smith on the title cut of her new album, one of five songs they co-wrote for the collection, four of which were included in the concert. The couple performed another song they wrote, “Farmer’s Blues,” which Stuart recorded as a duet with Merle Haggard and released on his 2003 album, Country Music. Before starting, Stuart pulled out a letter from Haggard sent to Smith for the occasion.

Written in the verse of a song, titled “Too Much Boogie Woogie,” it included couplets such as, “Some of this mess they call country music ought to be down in the big abyss. There’s too much boogie woogie, and not enough Connie Smith.”

Stuart also introduced “Choctaw Fair,” a rockabilly number he wrote about his wife of fourteen years that he hasn’t recorded yet; and “Looking for a Reason,” another co-write by the couple, this one from Smith’s self-titled 1998 Warner Bros. album.

“When we first got together, she asked me to think about producing a record on her,” Stuart said. “I said, ‘I’d love to. Do you write songs?’ She said, ‘Sometimes.’ I said, ‘Everybody knows you can sing. I want to see if you can write.’ And she’s a great songwriter.”

Stuart stuck around to play acoustic guitar on “Ain’t Love a Good Thing,” a Dallas Frazier song Smith recorded in 1974 that also appeared in the movie The Road to Nashville. Smith’s partnership with Frazier is one of the most symbiotic and productive in country music history. She has recorded sixty-nine songs written or co-written by the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member, including the 1972 RCA Records album, If It Ain’t Love and Other Great Dallas Frazier Songs.

Smith shined on another Frazier song, “Run Away Little Tears,” which she described as “one of my very favorites.” It first appeared on her 1968 album, I Love Charlie Brown. She described Frazier as “my brother and my friend and my cohort. He has meant so much to my life. I started cutting Dallas Frazier songs early on in my career. It was so easy to sing a Dallas song because they were all so great.

Frazier stepped up to sing a couple of his country classics, “Fourteen Carat Mind,” a #1 hit for Gene Watson in 1982, and “If My Heart Had Windows,” a Top Ten hit for George Jones in 1967 and frequently covered since then. He got a standing ovation when it ended. He also sang harmony on “A Heart Like You,” a new Frazier song Smith recorded on Long Line of Heartaches.

Smith ended with the gospel standard “Peace in the Valley,” written by Thomas Dorsey and made famous by Mahalia Jackson, Red Foley, and Elvis Presley. Smith heard Foley sing the song shortly after coming to Nashville, saying she was blessed to be around town in the 1960s to hear many of her heroes.

Smith is the museum’s ninth artist-in-residence. She joins an esteemed list that includes Cowboy Jack Clement, Earl Scruggs, Tom T. Hall, Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Douglas, Vince Gill, and Buddy Miller.

At the start of the evening, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Director Kyle Young explained that the artist-in-residence series “offers our stage for the creation of an intimate, unique musical experience totally of [the artist’s] choosing.

In her humble yet steadfast way, Smith took full advantage of that theme, fashioning an evening that was indeed intimate and unique. Moreover, she brought out all the qualities that mark Smith as one of country music’s most singular performers, showing off not just her exceptional voice, but also her special connection to songwriters and the musicians with whom she collaborates, and the professional-yet-warm way she conducts herself on stage. Ultimately, she served up an evening that exemplified the artist-in-residence ideals with a one-of-a-kind experience that celebrated everything that makes Connie Smith such an extraordinary American musician.

—Michael McCall


August 22, 2011

On the first show of her 2011 artist-in-residence series at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, singer Connie Smith displayed her devotion to the pedal steel guitar through words and performances that illuminated the instrument’s significance to her straight-ahead, hard-country sound.

Smith featured steel guitarist Gary Carter, a current member of her Sundowners band, and special guest steel players Robby Turner and Weldon Myrick during the concert in the museum’s Ford Theater. “If I was a musical instrument I would want to be a steel guitar,” Smith joked when introducing Turner midway through her seventeen-song set.

Smith was eager to share the spotlight with all eight musicians who joined her on stage in various combinations. Lending a conversational and intimate “living room” feel to the show, she briefly turned the mike to Turner and Myrick, providing them an opportunity to share stories and discuss their inspiration and craft. With the gesture, Smith seemed to suggest that in order to understand her music you must know a thing or two about the kinds of musicians she chooses to surround herself with.

A Grand Ole Opry star since 1965, Smith is the museum’s ninth artist-in-residence. She joins an esteemed list that includes Cowboy Jack Clement, Earl Scruggs, Tom T. Hall, Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Douglas, Vince Gill, and Buddy Miller.

Smith opened the show with her 1972 Top Ten hit “If It Ain’t Love (Leave It Alone)” and crowd favorite “I Love Charlie Brown” backed by Sundowners Rod Ham on bass, Rick Wright on guitar, Ric McClure on drums, and Carter on steel. Guest guitarists Mark Casstevens and Paul Martin supplemented the band on most of the remaining songs.

Smith dedicated her 1973 single “You’ve Got Me” (Right Where You Want Me)” to her husband, Marty Stuart, who was seated in the audience. When reaching further back into her catalog for “I’ll Come Runnin’,” she encouraged Carter to take a hot solo, explaining that she often auditions her steel guitar players using that fast number. The singer also let the Sundowners shine on the instrumentals “Lonely Street” and “East Bound and Down.”

On the eve of releasing Long Line of Heartaches, her first album in thirteen years, Smith performed a handful of songs from the album, including three that she wrote with Stuart: “I’m Not Blue,” “Pain of a Broken Heart,” and the title track.

As Smith welcomed Myrick to the stage, she credited him for creating the “Connie Smith sound” in the mid-1960s, while an original member of the Sundowners band. Myrick remains very dear to her, Smith said, as the musician who created the signature licks on many of her popular recordings and as a longtime band member who watched out for her well-being on the road.

With Myrick and the Sundowners, Smith delivered her 1960s classics “You and Your Sweet Love” and “Once a Day.” Smith stepped aside for Myrick to sing Bobby Helms’s “Fraulein,” with Carter and Turner trading off on steel guitars. All three steel guitarists joined in on “Connie’s Song,” an instrumental medley of familiar Smith numbers.

Smith typically closes her shows with a gospel number, and she ended this classy, tasteful concert with “Amazing Grace.” Her remaining artist-in-residence performances are August 29 and September 12. They will follow different themes and feature different guests.

-Michael Gray