Interview with Connie Smith
If you’re anything like us, you’ve been marking off the days on your calendar until August 23, the release date for Long Line of Heartaches, Connie Smith’s first full album of new material since 1996 (her second since 1978). Smith is a busy lady these days, appearing on husband Marty Stuart’s show, the Opry, and the occasional tour date, but she took a few minutes to chat with Engine 145 about her new album, songwriting, and Pink Floyd.
Juli Thanki: It’s been 15 years since your last album of original material. What made you decide that now was the right time to get back in the studio?
Connie Smith: Marty’s been after me the whole time to get back in the studio and I’ve just been doing other things. I love recording but I just hadn’t gotten down to it. Dallas Frazier—I’ve recorded 69 of his songs—he didn’t write for about 30 years, but he started writing again and brought a song to us called “A Heart Like You.” It’s a song I would have cut in the ’60s just as quick as today, and that kind of started it. So Marty said “Now we need to get serious,” and we got down to it. Marty and I wrote five of the songs [on the album]—that just happened as we went along—but I asked Kostas to send me a bunch of his songs; Marty and I went up to Montana and wrote with him, too.
I found a Johnny Russell song [“Ain’t You Even Gonna Cry”] that I’ve always loved, and a Bill Rice and Jerry Foster song that Johnny Paycheck had recorded. It was a great song that I wasn’t going to record because Johnny Paycheck did such a great job of it that I thought “There’s no way I could do as good of a job.” But Marty really wanted me to cut it and it was a wonderful song, so we did. We just got into it and it went. I really enjoyed it.
One of the songs we recorded was a song that Marty and I had started 15 years ago and just finished this past April. We’d start it and put it back, start it and put it back, so finally this past April we finished it. It was one I knew I wanted to record at some point. So everything fell into place; Marty had time, I had time, and it worked out great.
JT: You recorded Long Line of Heartaches in RCA Studio B, where you recorded so many of your hits. Did it feel a bit like déjà vu?
CS: It was like coming home. That was another big factor in wanting to record. I thought “I can’t wait to get back to RCA,” because I love that studio.
JT: What’s the process like when you and Marty write songs together? Do you make time for it, or does it come up out of the blue?
CS: It’s both. A lot of times we’ll set aside a day to write; he’ll bring in his ideas and I’ll bring in mine and we’ll write. Sometimes we’re just sitting around talking and one of us will say something or think of something and we’ll start. Or I’ll walk in and he’s [already] come up with a melody and we’ll take off. A lot of it happens spontaneously.
JT: Your daughters sing with you on the gospel song “Take My Hand.” That must have been really special to have them all in the studio with you.
CS: I’m excited about that; I’ve wanted them to for a long time. My daughter Jeanne actually has never sung in public until a few years ago when she sang for me at on my 40th Anniversary of being on the Midnite Jamboree Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop; that was the first place I sang when I came to town. That was several years ago; it’s about 47 years now. She doesn’t really sing in person. My daughter Julie doesn’t really sing in public either, but she agreed to sing with me. My youngest daughter Jodi sings with Old Black Kettle and has done quite a bit of singing. She’s got a 2 ½ year old and a one-year old right now, so she’s pretty busy (laughs).
So they all came out and Jeanne said “I’ll do it on the record, but I’m not going to do it live!” She has agreed to do it with me at the Hall of Fame, though.
JT: It’s been 40-some years since your biggest hits like “Once a Day” and “Ain’t Had No Lovin’.” How have you changed or evolved as an artist over those years?
CS: I haven’t (laughs). My musical tastes are still the same as they were in the ’60s. I just like a really good song, and it usually turns out to be a country one. I love all kinds of music, but when it comes to singing, the country ones are just so comfortable for me to do.
JT: This is such a traditional-sounding country record; it sounds like you could have made it in the late ’60s or early ’70s.
CS: And that’s because I really feel the same [about country music] as I did 30 or 40 years ago. I love it; I grew up listening to it any time I could. A lot of times we couldn’t get country music on the radio because of where we lived and the radio we had. But any time we could, we’d listen to the Grand Ole Opry. I dearly loved the Louvin Brothers—they were my favorite on the Opry—but I loved everybody. George Jones was my favorite male singer and Loretta Lynn my favorite female singer, and that’s pretty much the base of things.
But sometimes we couldn’t get country music, so I’d listen to Brook Benton or Dinah Washington or Nat King Cole or Nancy Wilson or Sarah Vaughan or any of the pop singers—I loved Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. I love all kinds of good music, but when it comes to singing it, I feel like I’m just a country singer.
JT: What are you listening to these days?
CS: Everything. Several years ago Marty introduced me to Rosetta Tharpe, and I love her music. I always was a fan of Mahalia Jackson. I really love Tammy Wynette’s stuff; I’ve actually become more and more a fan of hers as time goes on. I still love the Louvin Brothers.
We listen to all kinds. My son Darren loved The Beatles; he introduced me to them because I was pretty country and didn’t know anything about them. Through my kids I was introduced to Pink Floyd and people like that. I love the group Extreme. Jodi loved contemporary gospel music, so I listened to that. Julie liked Manhattan Transfer and groups like that. Put Marty in the middle of that: he’s introduced me to everything that was left (laughs)!
JT: You’ve got everything covered, it seems.
CS: Except rap. I haven’t gotten that far. Not yet.
JT: Has working on Long Line of Heartaches inspired you to want to make more records?
CS: Probably. I’ll be 70 in a week or two, and if I’m going to do ‘em, I better start! (laughs)
JT: Is there anything you haven’t done as an artist that you still want to accomplish?
CS: As an artist, I’d really like to have one of my songs in a movie. Billy Bob Thornton put “You’ve Got Me Right Where You Want Me” in the background of one of his movies. It was playing during the time he was throwing bologna at the store owner (laughs). I would really love to have one of my songs played in a movie. I think that would be great.
I still want to write a song that is a classic. I haven’t done that. I just want to keep singing, and try to learn how to do it better.
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