By Whitney Phaneuf
Acoustic folk-blues guitarist and songwriter Chris Smither performs “Don’t Call Me Stranger,” and discusses his songwriting and recovery from addiction.
Smither’s husky voice and finger-style playing, inspired by Mississippi John Hurt, caught the attention of young upstart Bonnie Raitt, who recorded Smither’s “I Feel the Same” for her classic 1973 album Takin’ My Time.
But by then, Smither’s life had spiraled out of control; he suddenly stopped recording and remained inactive for more than a decade. “I was basically drunk for 12 years,” he has said, “and somehow I managed to climb out of it. I don’t know why.”
Fans of sharp, soulful, acoustic-blues fingerpicking can be grateful for Smither’s recovery, because once he got back into the ring, he never stopped. Smither returned with his long-overdue third album, It Ain’t Easy, in 1984, and by the ‘90s and 2000s had become one of the most prolific singer-songwriters on the acoustic-blues scene. He’s since released 14 albums; appeared on the Monsters of Folk tour with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Tom Russell, and Dave Alvin; taught guitar lessons at Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch; and had his songs covered by artists ranging from Diana Krall to Emmylou Harris.
Smither’s latest album is Still on the Levee, a career-spanning, double-disc retrospective of his songs, re-recorded back where it all started—in New Orleans. He came into the AG studio recently for an Acoustic Guitar Session in which he talked about his guitar playing, songwriting, and recovery from addiction. He also performed a kick-ass version of the opening track of his terrific 2009 album Time Stands Still, “Don’t Call Me Stranger.”
Chris Smither will never be a stranger around these parts.
A review of Still on the Levee appears in the October issue of Acoustic Guitar, and for tour dates you can check out Smither’s website.
For more Acoustic Guitar Sessions, check out the archive.