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If you could go back and re-do old work, how would you do it? This was the question facing the great folk and bluesman Chris Smither when he recorded his latest album, "Still on the Levee." It's a retrospective of his impressive, 50 year career in the music business.
Smither grew up in New Orleans, but for decades he's made his home in Massachusetts, where he's developed his great gift for both songwriting and guitar-picking.
Chris Smither, singer/songwriter.
On the songwriting process of "No Love Today":
Chris Smither: "This is the only song I ever wrote in front of anybody. I was visiting my father who had left New Orleans and was living in a retirement community in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and I went to visit him at one point — I saw him frequently. And he said, 'I've got something to show you.' And he showed me a videotape of a show that had been done by a Tulane University history professor — [it] was sort of 'history of New Orleans...' [One of the things] the professor talked about was the old fruit and vegetable salesmen — vendors — that used to come down the street. And he talked about how you could hear them singing as they came down the street and he imitated it and I just — I cringed. I turned to Dad, I said, 'That's not what they sound like...' So, I showed my dad. I said, 'Here's what they sounded like.' 'Cause I could remember the song really well. And then I said, 'That would make a song, you know?' So I started working on it and I sat down on his back porch working on it for two days and he wouldn't come outside and listen. He was pacing like an expectant father — nervous as a cat inside. But when it was finished, he felt like he had helped. He felt like he'd had something to do with it, you know? It was remarkable. I'll never forget that."
On the 50 year retrospective:
CS: "It's amazing what happens if you keep waking up every day. I didn't really think that much about it, but my longtime producer David Goodrich — 'Goody' — and my manager, Carol Young, were both very aware of the fact that, not only had it been 50 years but I was turning 70 this year and they said, 'We've got to do something, you know? It's special. Don't you want to take a look at what's been going on?' And I realized well into the project, that I had never really stopped and looked at the whole thing. I just go day by day, I write the songs, I make the records, it's always now. Maybe that's a good thing... And it wasn't easy. I had to go back and listen to some of my earliest recordings and there was more than one time when I would sit there and listen to the song and say, 'What on earth is he doing?'"
On recording the retrospective in New Orleans:
CS: "That was the longest I'd ever spent in New Orleans since I'd left — it was three weeks in one stretch. And I got back to almost wanting to live there again. But, not quite."
This story aired on August 11, 2014.
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