Spotlight On Big Smo

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For someone as down-home as Big Smo, his story is as 21st century as it gets. He’s a rural-Tennessee native raised equally on country and rap; he’s a family man, a party animal and a road warrior; he’s a dirt-under-the-fingernails rocker whose paths to success were both blacktop and fiber-optic. Tradition, the modern age, Southern rock, hip-hop and country all come together in the music and the story of Big Smo.

"We were raised on Waylon and Willie, Johnny Cash and Jerry Reed, and we were raised on the Beastie Boys and Dirty South,” he says, "so it’s not a surprise that’s who we’ve become. And that’s the place a whole lot of fans are, loving not just country but hip-hop as well. They’re country people who love to party and have a good time, and love that hip-hop beat and that country story telling. It’s connecting to a lot of people.”

You can hear all of the things that make up Big Smo on his Warner Bros. debut "Kuntry Livin’," featuring the single "Workin’," and on the four indie albums and many YouTube videos that preceded it.

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And you’ll get to see his life up-close and personal on the A&E Network series "Big Smo," which follows him, his family and friends as his career bounds to the next level — "from junior varsity to the pro bowl," as an executive in the show’s trailer says. You see him working with Darius Rucker, getting a new tour bus, taking his music to radio — and trying to balance his fast-rising career with his fast-growing family life. His mother, his longtime girlfriend, their two young daughters, his childhood pals, his band, his business team and die-hard fans (the "Kinfoke") all play roles in this larger-than-life character’s story — and Smo himself knows how to fill the stage and the screen with both his music and his personality. (The show premieres Wednesday, June 11 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT).

Another character in the show is the "Kuntry Ranch," the 32-acre farm in the Tennessee mountains that has been in Smo’s family for generations, and is his home and home base.

"I can still remember the smell of the fresh cut hay and how blue the sky was," he says. "I had hard-working grandparents and even harder-working parents that had great family values. I was always into music and was always writing on the side."

After releasing two independent albums — "Kuntry Kitchen" in 2002 and "The True South" several years later — Smo went back into the lab — i.e. the studio he’d built on the ranch — with musical partner DJ Orig and industry vet Jon Conner to begin building his empire, developing new artists, honing his sound and working up several music videos and short films that began developing a following on YouTube.

"YouTube became the place for seeing what was happening," he says, "so we took advantage to get what we were doing out there to the world."

Over the years he and his band—Orig, vocalists Alexander King and Haden Carpenter, guitarist Travis Tidwell, bassist Eric Flores and drummer Trevor Silva—have shared stages with Kid Rock, Jamey Johnson, Brantley Gilbert, and more, and sold out Nashville’s historic Exit/In and performed at 2013’s CMA Music Fest.

In early 2010 he teamed up with industry executive Dan Nelson and formed Big Smo Inc., which released his next LP, "American Made." But it was a song called "Kickin’ It in Tennessee," from the follow-up LP "Grass Roots," that took things to the next level: The anthem, celebrating his home stage, went viral and brought Smo to the attention of major labels.

After more than ten years of doing it on his own, racking up 16 million views on YouTube and touring the country, major labels came to Smo. Warner Bros. won the prize, and "Kuntry Livin’ " is the first album in the partnership. Not that being on a major has changed Smo or his sound.

"The most important thing," Smo says, "is that when we went from being independent artists to being on a label, we didn’t lose any control of who we are or what we do. That’s why the label called us. They told me, ’We’ll let you drive. We like the way you steer.’ I was like, ’Cool. I won’t let you down.’"

It’s a world that he built out from his home and his family and his band — and it’s the foundation for everything that he does in the future.

"You can tell when something’s real," he says. "You can tell when it’s true. And I think what’s made us successful and gotten us this far is that we’re just real people, down-home country folk who really love to make music. People see that."


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