After 20 Years--The New Connie Smith

This appeared in Country Weekly - October 6, 1998

More than 50 albums and 20 Top 10 songs. It's an impressive achievement but, when Connie Smith's new album hits the stores October 6, it will be her first in 20 years. In between, Connie--who first burst on the country music scene in 1964 with her No. 1 signature song, "Once A Day"--took time off to raise a family.

Now with husband Marty Stuart in the producer's chair, she's releasing Connie Smith, an album of 10 new songs, nine of which she co-wrote. The project came about by chance. "Marty and I went with Travis and Theresa Tritt to a Warner Bros. party," Connie explains. "The first person I saw was Jim Ed Norman, who's the president of the label.

"Jim Ed said, 'I've been looking for you. Are you still interested in recording?' I had done a couple of sessions with him before but we never found anything we wanted to release. Jim Ed said, 'What have you been doing?' Marty chimed in and said, 'We've been writing songs.' Then Jim Ed looked at Marty and said, 'Well, would you like to be involved in this?' And Marty said, 'I'll do anything from carrying her water on up.' "

Although music occupies nearly every waking moment these days, Connie still finds time to pursue her hobbies of old houses and antiques. She invited Country Weekly to join her as she toured the grounds of an 1810 mansion at Nashville's Grassmere Park.

It's an opportunity to talk about the new songs she's created with veteran writers like Harlan Howard. "I had started writing 'How Long' several years ago and had never finished it," says Connie. "When Marty and Harlan and I got together, we finished it. Even though it came out a little differently from the way I'd started it, it's one of my favorites.

"The songs on the album are not necessarily autobiographical. It's hard to say. Usually you come up with an idea for song from something that's happened in your life or someone you know. It can be an idea from television or a movie.

"But you take it and start a song. 'Love's Not Everything' was just a great title so we wrong a song to fit. But there's always a little bit of you in any song you write."

The petite blonde is quick to give her husband a lion's share of the credit. "Marty is a genius. He helped write, he played guitar, he played mandolin, he co-produced with Justin Neibank--he's all over it. He even sang one line of harmony on one song."

Connie's longtime friendship with Marty turned to courtship and then marriage in 1997. Despite a 17-year age difference, they treat each other like high school sweethearts. "We've just been married for one year so trying to get out of 'my world' and into 'our world' has been great. But it takes a lot of time," she says shyly. "Marty bought the house we live in now and remodeled it. It wasn't big enough, so we bought the house next door so we can add on to ours."

Their home overlooks the majestic Cumberland River. "We love the outdoors. Our biggest form of entertainment is to sit on the porch. It doesn't really matter as long as we have time by ourselves," Connie, 57, says. "Marty loves to grill. He's a good cook and I must be too. I raised five kids."

Connie's first love has always been her children from her previous marriages. She gave up her career at its peak to care for them. "I stopped touring for five years when my kids were little, but I began again when my youngest daughter started kindergarten. She graduated from college this year.

"My oldest son Darren lives in Norway. He went to Amsterdam as a missionary in 1984 and met this beautiful Norwegian blonde. He's 5-foot-7 and she's 5-foot-11. Their kids are 6, 8, and 10 and I talk to them as often as I can. I try to get booked over there so I can see them. I'm going to Taiwan soon because I have a son over there."

Lately Connie's passion has been songwriting. "Steve Wariner and I wrote a song together that I just love. We haven't pitched it yet. We really want to write together some more. I'm a real admirer of his. I've also written songs with Melba Montgomery, Jessi Colter, Lionel Cartwright and some others."

One of the album songs she's particularly proud of is the folk ballad "A Tale From Tahrarrie," which she wrote with Marty. "It isn't supposed to fit in with the rest of the songs," Connie says. "The reason we put that on the album is to show another side of me. Everybody knows me as a singer and songwriter of country songs. This is just another side of who I am.

"When we started writing it, we wanted it to sound like it was written in the 1700s. It began to sound really Irish but, when we came to the point where we needed the name of a town, we couldn't think of one. So I made one up. To my knowledge, there's no such town as Tahrarrie. Maybe there should be," Connie says.

After two decades, Connie found recording in the digital age an eye-opening experience. "It had been so long since I had been in the studio," Connie laughs as she walks across the grand gallery. "It was a real culture shock at first. Everybody I was working with were geniuses so, by the time I caught on to what what was going on and would say, 'OK, I'm ready now'--it was done.

"But it was fun. I've always loved the creative process of recording, making something brand new. I've always liked being involved--from picking the songs all the way through to mastering the recording. If a musical lick comes to mind, I hum it to 'em."

Connie still has a large following even though she hasn't had an album or radio single in years. "I'd rather be at home," she admits. "But I work quite a bit on the road. My biggest areas are Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and Maryland. But I work a little bit everywhere. I'm getting more and more young people coming to my shows who know my music. A lot of them have The Essential Connie Smith album, which is like hearing me grow up."

Connie, who first joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1965, appeared at Fan Fair this year for the first time in many years. The audience response to her rendition of the hymn "How Great Thou Art" was overwhelming.

"The most exciting thing about the new album is that I'm getting new music to my fans who have been with me the whole time," Connie says. "Radio doesn't seem to want it but my fans will hunt it down and buy it anyway. We hope to find alternative ways for people to hear the album. Radio won't play George Jones either, so it doesn't hurt my feelings knowing I'm in the same company with George. I'll be in his company any day.

By Danny Proctor

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