Looking on the back end of a 50-year mark in the music industry, blues/folk icon Chris Smither continues to be revered for both his guitar prowess and his way with a song lyric. Earlier this year, he released “Call Me Lucky,” his first recording of new material in six years, and his songs are as poetic today as they were when he was first starting out in the ’60s.
The 73-year-old continues to tour and on July 12 will be playing the Fairfield Theatre Company. When speaking with Smither he told Keith Loria that audiences can expect plenty of the hits that were on his 2016 career-spanning, retrospective double album, “Still on the Levee,” as well as some of the new tunes.
Keith Loria: What can you tease about your set list?
Chris Smither: I think half the songs I play will be new, but there will be plenty of catalogue favorites. It’s a rare show where one person isn’t disappointed because I can’t play them all. But you can be certain that there is a song like the one they wanted that I did play. There’s only so much time. I have to have fun because if I’m not having fun, the show suffers.
KL: With the catalogue of songs at your disposal, you could easily rest on your laurels and just play the old stuff. Why is it important to you to continue writing and producing new work?
CS: The audience gets bored and many want the new stuff, so that builds a little fire in me. The most important thing is I need something to stir the pot a little bit, because the new stuff is not only fun to play, but it lends life to the old stuff as well.
KL: How do you feel you’ve evolved as an artist through the years?
CS: I go in some new directions in terms of progressions and the way I approached writing these songs. It was also a little more collaboration than I’m used to. I worked a lot with my producer, who was instrumental in getting me to work in a different way musically. When you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to see the differences but other people see it more than I do.
KL: Why was now the time to release this?
CS: It was just time. I try to put out something every couple of years, whether new or old. A lot of songwriters write all the time, but I don’t. I only write for a specific project and if I want to do something new. When I was younger, I would rely on inspiration but if I did that these days, nothing would ever get done. Once I start, it takes about nine months.
KL: What’s your songwriting process?
CS: Writing involves two stages. It usually begins with little guitar ideas and progression ideas, and then stage two is all about a disciplined approach to sitting down and penning the lyrics that go along with them. It could take me six months to write eight songs, and I’m always amazed that I can rush it at all, but if I make up my mind to do it, I can sit down and get it done. There has to be a deadline, and in my case, what I do is book time in a studio so I know I have to finish. And so far, it’s always gotten done.
KL: You’ll be 74 this year. What it is that keeps you coming back to the stage year after year?
CS: There’s an exhilaration to it. There’s a whole bunch of people out there ready to have a good time and most are convinced they will. I’ve gotten to a point where I know I can deliver. It’s something that has sort of a Pavlovian reaction to it. I have a lot more confidence now that I have something to say.
KL: Back when you started, what was your ambition?
CS: I had no idea if I would be successful or not, but I felt I had to try. People have often asked when I decided to do this for a living and the answer is I was doing it for a living before I ever decided. There was a point in the ’60s that I entertained delusions of grandeur that I would be a major pop star and maybe retire with millions of dollars in the bank at a young age, but that didn’t happen. But the reality of what has happened is greater than I ever could have dreamed of. I am doing what I love and there’s not a lot of people who can say that.