The career of Lori Smith has seen as many twists and turns as some of the winding roads have around Music City. Talent, grit, and determination are a huge part of her story, and a huge part of the reason that she is starting to reap the benefits of some of her hard work. With her single, "What's In It For Me," making progress at radio stations across the country, Smith feels the best is yet to come.
"I came here when I was around fourteen so I could pursue music," the Fort Lauderdale native recalled to Billboard. "I started recording with Larry Butler, who was incidentally the person that produced the album I have out now. It was his last album. He told me he liked producing people with feeling in their voice. So, he asked me to work together for a second time."
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Butler was one of the most respected producers to ever sit behind a console in Music City, steering sessions by acts such as Jean Shepard, Dottie West, and a 1975-1980 stint as Kenny Rogers' producer that netted such hits as "Lucille" and "The Gambler." It was due to his work with Rogers that he won the 1980 Producer of the Year at the Grammy Awards -- the only time the trophy went to someone based in Music City.
Being the last artist that Butler produced prior to his death in January is a distinction that Smith takes a lot of pride in. "It feels terrific that he sought me out the second time," she said. "He was a terrific, down home kind of guy. We worked very well in the studio. If I was becoming very uncomfortable with something, he knew how to read me. He would walk out of the studio," she recalls.
She explained his reasons for leaving her to figure things out on her own. "That took the pressure off, and he knew that. If you have time to stop and think about it, the people that he produced in the past, you could become a little bit nervous."
Smith's first stint working with Butler had her on the cusp of stardom, before tragedy struck. "My mother got very ill, and she was a very big part of my career. She basically traveled with me and helped me with a lot of stuff. She had cancer and died, so I stayed behind in Florida to help my dad with her," she explains. "At the time I just stopped, as I had a lot of stuff going on."
But Smith couldn't stay away from the stage forever. "The catalyst for bringing me back to it happened while I was helping my dad get back on his feet after my mom's death. I had also gotten a job at a salon and I had a baby. That was a very different life. Then, one day, someone walked into the salon and said 'We saw your website,' and they told me that someone had built a website about me, and had all my pictures and different things about me," she says with a sense of amazement.
"At the time, I didn't even know who it was, but it gave me the idea that 'This person did this, so maybe I can find someone to help me pick back up and do my own,'" noting that she started recording new music in her time off from working at a salon. It was then that Butler reconnected with her.
"So, through that job, which I was so unhappy about taking, it really brought me right back around full circle to where I needed to be."
Smith is enjoying watching her current single get rave reviews and attention from radio, and will be releasing her album soon, but admits to taking a philosophical look at what success means to her. "I just want to see what happens, and let the chips fall where they may," she says, also allowing that "I'm just thankful to be able to do what I enjoy."