Corey Smith is an anamoly. He's a country performer who has managed to rise to 1,000-plus seat venues without the benefit of being on a major label or a lot of radio play. He doesn't look like a typical country performer and, as a guy who doesn't mind sitting in the pick-up and drop-off line at his kids' school, he doesn't seem to be leading the life of a country star.
"People on the jazz scene and on the indie rock scene, they've been doing that for years — just relying on word of mouth and not relying on radio," says Smith in a call from his home in Jeffeson, Ga. "My music tends to appeal to people who have a bent toward country. What sets me apart is I've produced and paid for six studio records and one live record. I wrote every single word on every song and I own every note of it. It's not a machine. It's me. And it's made possible because fans have supported me."
Smith first hit the national radar with his 2003 debut album "Undertones." The song "Twenty One" gained a word-of-mouth following and fans began showing up wherever Smith played.
At the time, Smith was a social studies teacher in Gwinnett County, Ga., but he could tell when things were catching on.
"The first time I played at a little bar in Dahlonega, Ga., and there were about 200 people that showed up and I started playing the first song and they started singing along. I was like, 'Wow, where did you all come from and how do you know the words to this song?' It blew my mind. And more people would come out and sing along. It was really surprising."
He didn't decide to pursue music full time, though, until he was 28 years old.
"My first show at the Georgia Theater in Athens. It was a sold-out show, over 1,000 people there and I just knew it was time."
He says it was one of the best decisions he ever made.
"It was a real scary time. We'd just had my first son and my wife had just quit her job. I was the sole breadwinner and less than a month after I stopped teaching we found out that she was pregnant with our second child. It took a leap of faith, but it was a good decision."
He says music was always an outlet.
"The Who song 'Behind Blue Eyes,' I remember being in middle school and going through a really tough time. My parents had just gotten divorced and I remember that song just really hit me hard, sitting in my room. My dad got me a little Sony stereo for Christmas one year and I wore that thing out. ... Now the difference is, it used to be listening to music and now it's making music that gets me through it."
Smith says he began playing guitar at 15 and writing songs in his late teens.
"At first I was writing songs for me, because it made me feel better. I remember the first song I ever wrote I was mad at my girlfriend's mom. I was just really frustrated and I wrote this song and it made me feel better. Nobody ever heard the song, but it made me feel better."
Overall, though, it's not music that Smith values most in his life.
"My family is the most important thing and music comes second," says Smith. "I think there was a time, especially when I was young when I had stars in my eyes and thought about being rich and famous and it can make a person drunk. ... At the end of the day, if my music career doesn't work out, I have a great homelife and people who love me. And they love me for who I am, not for anything to do with my music. That's why I still live in Jefferson and I never moved to Nashville. It's why I still make the music the way I do, because at the end of the day the music is not the most important thing."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!