By MELINDA MARTINEZ, Alexandria Town Talk
ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) — The last 50 years have been a “Charmer” for Smithfield Fair.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the band was once called Charmer. And even though it was changed in 1989, many in the area still know them by that name.
“We were a big presence during the late ’70s-early ’80s at the Cotton Gin Restaurant,” said Alexandria native Dudley-Brian Smith in a phone interview from Baton Rouge. “And so many of our audience members from Cenla remember us both from the Cotton Gin and under the name of Charmer which we changed our name from in 1989. Same band different name.”
To celebrate their musical milestone the trio made up of Smith, his wife Jan Smith and brother Bob Smith, of Alexandria, have released their 50th anniversary celebration collection, “A Place in Your Heart.” This marks their 35th album.
Fourteen of the band’s signature songs spanning those 50 years such as “To Louisiana,” “Goodbye Old Friend,” “Chasing Leaves in a Storm” and “A Place In Your Heart” appear on the album. The songs were chosen based on audience requests, said Smith, who founded the band.
Their music, he said, “falls most easily into the ‘acoustic pop’ or ‘folk pop’ categories, also resonating in ‘vocal pop’ because of the tight harmonies.”
Smith said their connection to Central Louisiana is not only in their upbringing but also goes deeper into the area’s musical environment. He and Bob “got all sorts of influences” growing up because Central Louisiana is the crossroads of the state.
“Our father was a swing and church musician and mother a standards singer on the radio there,” he said. “We blend those sounds from our youth of swamp pop, gospel, pop, classical, Celtic, swing and more into an amalgam that is both hopeful and reminiscent. So many memories of Cenla are woven into the lyrics, too, a generally carefree and idyllic time.”
Jan, Smith said, brings both spiritual songs plus folk and pop into the mix.
“She’s a big Linda Ronstadt fan,” he said. “So we sort of amalgamate all of those things and create this kind of music. There’s swamp pop. There’s gospel. There are blues. There’s jazz. There’s swing. There’s Celtic music. There’s a big variety of things that we draw from and it all finds its place in these songs.”
This is what Smithfield Fair does and has always done, said Smith.
“Back to the very early days we’d write our songs,” he said. “We’d come up with arrangements. And somewhere in there, we adapt and draw from a variety of traditions.”
Over the years, Smith believes their music has gotten tighter as they’ve been through several different side paths.
“For 20 years, we were heavy into Scottish music, which is our heritage,” he said. “We grew up on those songs. So we moved into that at a time where there was a big folk revival of Celtic music in America – and all over the world actually. We got the benefit of that riding that wave of Celtic music, got our music out all over the world. We signed with Centaur Records and suddenly, we were a big presence in Celtic music.”
Then, the movement faded and they went back into general music.
“But we went back into our original material with a better sense of what kind of statement we wanted to make,” said Smith. “We wanted to make hopeful music – strong melodies and big harmonies. And less dependence on outside artists as well.”
The group still maintains ties to Central Louisiana. Bob lives and works here, said Smith. Bob and their other brother Joel, they are proprietors of Saxon Studio in Bunkie. The business also sells the band’s CDs.
“Our photo is still on the window of the former River City Music Center on DeSoto, and we have many, many long-standing friends there,” said Smith. “We feel like Smithfield Fair’s music resonates with the Alexandria-Pineville area.”
They’ve also performed periodically at the Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center and the Hearn Theater in downtown Alexandria. They have also been part of the “A-Town Evenings” concert series hosted by the Arts Council of Central Louisiana.
“We even played an impromptu performance at the Tamp & Grind,” he said referring to the coffee shop in downtown Alexandria. “And of course over the years, we played everything from the Coliseum to the clubs there.”
The band hopes to be able to perform in Central Louisiana soon, he said. Right now they are taking a break after recording and releasing their latest album. They have upcoming performances scheduled in the fall for places like Dallas and Pensacola, Florida.
“But we do hope to come back to Alexandria soon. So in the fall or early next year, we’ll be back there,” said Smith.
In addition to Saxon Studio, their albums are available on their website smithfieldfair.com, amazon.com and on all streaming services.
As to why his first name and middle names are hyphenated, Smith said he moved to Baton Rouge after working in Nashville – and there were two Dudley Smiths. One was a gospel preacher and singer and the other was a country and western singer. So he decided to use his first and middle names to set himself apart from them. And, he added, he put the hyphen in between “just to make sure both names get put on the page and that reinforces that this is not those guys.”
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