DIARY - 8 MARCH 2010 - CHRIS SMITHER INTERVIEW
CRAZY HEART MENTOR
Chris Smither is elated that dual Oscar winning movie Crazy Heart
is dedicated to his nineties mentor - the late Texan guitarist and songwriter
Worth born Bruton died from cancer at 60 on May, 9, 2009, after writing
six songs for the film starring Jeff Bridges.
He also co-produced Bridges, Colin Farrell and Ryan Bingham on the
Golden Globe winning soundtrack with acclaimed childhood friend -
Texan T Bone Burnett.
The dying composer was flown from Texas to Los Angeles in a private
jet, laden with oxygen bottles, to enable him to finish it in time
to be eligible for Oscars.
a lauded blues guitarist and songwriter born in Miami, Florida and raised
in Louisiana from the age of three, can vouch for the prowess of Bruton.
The late Texan saved Smither's career in the late nineties by producing
three of his best albums.
"I was at Stephen's house in Austin the day before T Bone flew him
to California," Smither, 65, told Nu Country TV on the eve of his
fifth Australian tour.
"T Bone sent the private plane for him with a bunch of oxygen tanks
to fly him to California to make the record. His health did pick up briefly.
He worked as hard as he could and then when he was done he died."
Bruton died at Burnett's home in Los Angeles and willed the bulk of his
$1.2 million estate to his brother Sumter two months earlier.
Bruton left his former wife of 13 years Mary - a photographer - $100 in
addition to their community property.
Now Mary has sued Burton's estate, claiming he was not in a sound mind
at the time.
She claimed he was manipulated by Burnett, 62, who also produced the soundtrack
of O Brother Where Art Thou and Country Music - the latest
by Shotgun Willie Nelson, 76, and set for April release.
death of Bruton has bittersweet memories for Smither whose original
songs feature in movies such as Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer
and Love From Ground Zero.
"Stephen's a good songwriter, always was a good songwriter and
suffered for his art to finish the movie," Smither revealed.
"It's a great testimonial to him as that was the last thing he
did. It brought him a lot of attention - it's a shame he didn't get
that attention when he was still alive but it's a nice way to go out."
Smither said Bruton's role was more than just producer, guitarist
"He was also coaching Jeff Bridges and Ryan Bingham on their
roles," says Smither.
"It was a pretty collaborative effort.
he had throat cancer he could still speak. He was very weak and painfully
thin but he could still walk. I watched him get out of bed at his home
and walk out onto his back porch and eat some beefsteak."
it was a flashback to Bruton's mentoring of him in his production of albums
Up On The Lowdown (1995), Small Revelations (1997) and Drive
You Home Again (1999).
"I've often referred to him as the man who taught me to enjoy making
records," the singer recalled.
"Working with Stephen was best thing I had done in 20 years. That
was the turning point in my musical career. He said get down here to Austin.
'We're going to have a lot of fun'. I said 'I doubt that, I never had
fun making a record in my life. I went down to Austin. He was good as
his word, he taught me to enjoy making records. It was a revelation and
treat. He was wonderful person to work with, great guitarist and writer
in his own right."
CRADLES FOR SONGS
Smither co-wrote I Don't Know with adopted daughter Robin, just
five, on his 13th album Time Stands Still, released here for his
"I stole most of the lines from her, like a conversation between
me and the child," Smither confessed about the young girl he adopted
in the Chinese province of Nanchang.
"She's asking all these questions, questions are almost verbatim
- things she asked me. I just followed her around for a couple of days
and took notes on what she said."
And it was at his rural retreat about 100 kilometres from Boston that
he wrote another new song Surprise, Surprise.
"It's based on the stock market crash of 2009," Smither added.
"Catastrophes don't happen in single numbers, they come in pairs
and threes. I was sitting in my writing room with one eye on my guitar
and the other on my investments. I'll now get some return on investments
in the song royalties. It all depends on what they were invested in, I
was not doing so well but I didn't lose anything - my stocks went down
but they're still worth more now than when I bought them."
joins a punchy posse of songwriters including Texan Hugh Moffatt and
Bobby Bare in parodying religion pushers.
"Call Yourself from Time Stands Still is more a
shot at religion, more aimed at religious hucksters and televangelists,"
Smither confessed of the tribe headed Jimmy Lee Swaggart - cousin
of Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley.
"That's who it's aimed at."
But he reached way back to the roaring twenties for Miner's Blues
by Frank Hutchison.
"I heard it from a woman who was writing a book at University
of Minnesota on Frank Hutchison," Smither revealed.
"She was trying to get as many contemporary singers based in
blues as she could to record contemporary versions of Frank's songs."
his tradition of recording Bob Dylan songs by reviving It Takes A Lot
To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry.
So has Dylan met Smither to thank him for adding depth to his royalties'
"No, I have still not met him, I'd love to one day," Smither
"I have recorded so many of his songs."
that Dylan might have tried to connect.
"I thought I would hold him to account over that, I think he owes
it to me," Smither joked.
"I think I'm responsible for one ten thousandth of his fortune. He's
so busy on the road. I don't think he knows how to do anything else. I
kind of admire him for that."
AND MEXICO CITY
south to Mexico City at 17 with dreams of anthropology before turning
north to the thriving Boston café society of the sixties.
His late dad was a professor in the Literature faculty at Tulane University
in New Orleans with fellow Louisiana raised singer-songwriter Lucinda
Smither was a Professor Of Romance Languages when Miller Williams was
a fellow Tulane Professor and poet.
"My sister went to high school with Lucinda in Crescent City,"
says Smither of his twin sister with whom he went to school in Paris when
his father was stationed there.
"I haven't seen Lucinda in a couple of years."
Chris has fond memories of his father.
"He died just two years ago, finally, he was 91 years old,"
"That's what he would call it - finally - he didn't think he would
live past 75."
Although the professors' careers dovetailed their progeny owe career re-birthing
to stints in Austin, Texas.
Smither worked the thriving live scene of Boston with peers diverse as
Spider John Koerner, Bonnie Raitt, Jim Rooney, three Toms (Rush, Waits
and Pacheco) and two Erics - Andersen and Von Schmidt - whose art work
adorns the sleeve of his 10th album Live As I'll Ever Be.
Smither is a prolific writer he also finished Time Stands Still with
a Mark Knopfler song Madame Geneva's.
was on his Crimson album, a recent one," Chris recalled.
"I've been meaning to do a Mark Knopfler song for a long time.
I love the way he writes and way he does these little historical
vignettes especially. He usually has two or three on every record.
They're just beautiful, that one was so evocative - about 17th century
England awash in gin and public executions. It was just massively
done like a Hogarth picture. I couldn't resist it."
Smither, who made a DVD documentary One More Night in 2008,
is no stranger to publishing royalties.
don't know how they get my songs to record, I'm enormously proud
of that. It's very gratifying. I don't know if any of my new songs
are in movies. They sneak under the radar. I don't know much about
it - all of a sudden a cheque turns up."
Smither original would he most like to see in a movie?
"I'd love to see No Love Today on the big screen," he
"Slow Surprise being in The Horse Whisperer was a very
nice surprise - it made me nice piece of change. I was originally disappointed
they didn't use my version and said they wanted a female voice. I said
'who do you have in mind? They said Emmylou. I said I would step aside."
Even more than the Smither song Love Me Like A Man now cut by 16
"I'm the only guy to record that," Smither joked about the song
popularised by Bonnie Raitt, Katy Moffatt & Christine Collister.
"It was originally written from a man's perspective, believe it or
not it's been recorded 16 times by different artists - all women. There
hasn't been one man. I find it very interesting, done by women. Nearly
every blues band with women singers do that song. I feel like I've contributed
a minor standard to literature. The John Mayall version of Mail Order
Mystics has also been kind to me. But that is the gravy."
TOWNES AND POPPIES
also indebted to another late Texan - the legendary Townes Van Zandt who
died at 52 on New Year's Day 1997.
It dates back to Smither's Poppy Records debut in 197I with I'm A Stranger
Too followed by Don't Drag On It in 1972.
"I went to Poppy because of Townes Van Zandt," says Smither.
listened to a couple of records of Townes and thought if they're interested
in Townes they might be interested in me. That was how I met Townes,
we did a lot of shows together and sat around and drink together."
The Poppy period saw a flowering of Smither's career but fate struck
as he cut third album Honeysuckle Dog with a stellar line-up
headed by Raitt, Dr John and Lowell George.
"It was owned by Capitol-EMI but never released. Irony is they're
now trying to lease it to my record company. Now I'm not sure I want
it to come out. I'd prefer it to exist as a mystery rather than come
out and deflate everybody's expectations. I'm not that interested
any more, it's mainly my fans. Most songs that had any appeal for
me I re-recorded. There was a really good version of It Ain't Easy
(title track of a belated 1985 album). I always thought that version
would have been a hit if it had been released then.
It's one thing I really regretted."
not Smither's strong suit - he could blame his decade plus hiatus and
battle with the bottle on the Honeysuckle Dog debacle but won't.
"That was just a good excuse but it didn't have anything to do with
it," Chris said of his whiskey wars in our previous interview.
"I just wanted to drink, I spent 10 years doing nothing but drink
whiskey. When I was sober I would go out and swing a hammer and build
Smither performed last weekend at the 34th Port Fairy Folk festival.
He returns to Burke & Wills Winery - Lancefield - March 20, Brunswick
Music Festival - March 21, Northcote Social Club - March 26, Apollo Bay
Music festival - March 27 and 28 - and Brunswick Mechanics Institute March
CLICK HERE for Tonkgirl's Gig Guide
for full tour details.
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