It was just an ordinary evening in the household of Connie Smith and her husband, Marty Stuart, when they were interrupted.
“Marty and I were in the kitchen about suppertime, and the phone rang,” Smith recalls in an interview with Billboard. “He looked at the caller ID, and said ‘Can you answer that, please?” He didn’t know what it was, but he knew it was Steve Moore (CEO of the Country Music Association). He suspected something, and he wanted me to answer it. So, when I did, Steve said ‘I have the privilege of getting to tell all the new inductees of the Country Music Hall of Fame that they have been chosen.”
The news threw the legendary singer for a loop. “It’s such a shock to you. You want to cry, then you really don’t know what to say.”
One of the things that pleases Smith the most about her upcoming induction is the company she is in. “I look at Kitty Wells, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, so many of them — the greats that I grew up listening to, or was privileged to be on the same stage with many times. It’s just a wonderful privilege.”
Her induction comes at a unique period in her career. She has two new projects on the market that show her past — and her present. Last fall, she released “Long Line Of Heartaches” for Sugar Hill Records, her first album since recording for Warner Brothers in 1998. She is also the subject of Bear Family Records’ “Just For What I Am,” a five disc set of her recordings for RCA Records from 1968-1972.
Of the latter project, Smith said “I was so pleased. The first one (“Born To Sing”) came out a few years ago, and it included everything I recorded from 1964 through 1967. This includes the rest of the RCA years. I was really pleased with it.”
The music of Connie Smith has been among the most covered by modern female vocalists, with Martina McBride and Chely Wright being among those who have embraced her classics.
“That’s a wonderful thing,” Smith says of being covered. “It lets you know that what you did mattered, and will carry on. It’s a great compliment.”
One common thread between the box set and the Sugar Hill project is that Smith has included works from the pen of Dallas Frazier. “A Heart Like You” is on the new set, the seventy-first song of Frazier’s that Smith has cut. She said the rawness of his demos was something that always impressed her.
“Well, Dallas used to give me demos that were just him, the piano, and his foot. You could hear his foot on the floor keeping time. His songs were always great. It was something where I could say ‘I know what I can do with this song.’ So many of the demos, especially today – you hear them and they’re already done. I like to take a song that hasn’t got an arrangement to it, and put my own. It’s much easier, I think. Finding a new song, you want to put your own touch to it,” she said.
In fact, it was “A Heart Like You” that helped to spark her interest in recording the new disc. “Marty had been after me for a while to record another album. It had been thirteen years. Dallas came over to the house with his wife one day, and wanted to play a song he had written. He had quit writing for about thirty years, and had just started back. He played it, and I said ‘I want to record that.’ Marty said ‘Good, we’ll make that the first one we cut for the new album. Now, we’ll go find the others. Marty and I wrote five of the others, but that was the inspiration to get me started back seriously,” she admits.
Looking back on some of the pictures in the book that accompanies the box set, what does Smith see? “I see a little girl when I started. Even though I was twenty-three, I was very naïve. I had never really sung with music much. I remember on my first session. Somebody had made a mistake, and Bob Ferguson, my producer, said ‘Let’s take it from the turnaround.’ I said ‘What’s a turnaround.’ Everybody kind of laughed because I was so green,” she recalls, adding that the fire still burns brightly all these years later. “I go from that to now, there’s so much to learn. I still am trying to get what I am saying across with more heart and more meaning.”