My agent quits on Monday.
On Wednesday I tell my wife that I’m filing for divorce.
That afternoon my manager Ron calls and tells me that my record deal is history.
It’s been a big couple of days.

I’ve been building up to it, these 72 hours in 1995.
And this triple slap brings on a five-year whirlpool.
I hit the ground again and again. Hard. It hurts. I break all the way down.
And I question everything — money, responsibilities, music.
I wonder how to make all these seeming opposites work together,
Travel so hard for so little cash, and so little time home,
Put myself, my songs, out there over and over
For people to love, slam, or worse, just fucking ignore.

When my brain is at it’s darkest,
I see a hundred reasons for quitting music,
To stop making everyone put up with the fallout from my dream.
But I come to the simple fact that nothing fills me
Like putting words on a melody, telling a story that I’ve pulled from thin air.

The success or no-success of it is completely disconnected from the work itself.
And this is why I do it, what makes it worth the fight.
I fell in love with the work, not the feedback.

And I’ve never looked back.
Now the challenge is how to make daily life fit in with music,
Not the other way around.
Music is the constant.
It’s what fills the cup.
Everything else is just extra goodness.

It was my time to hit the wall, 1995,
To come up against myself,
Who I thought I was,
To find the reason to keep moving, stronger,
More exact in my dream.

The value of a good breakdown can never be underestimated.
As an artist, if you never confront yourself,
Your work is going to be stuck in the beginning phase.

Grow up. Crack up. Rebuild.
Tell the truth.
Make art.

© 2015 Darden Smith




Every now and then I find myself in a situation that makes me realize how incredible my luck is. I’m reminded how music has taken me places I never dreamed I would go, and that the surreal quality that it brings to my life is way beyond what I could have ever imagined.

Like today: This morning I did a radio interview from the Green Room at the Grand Old Opry on WSM-AM. Radney Foster had told me to make sure to check out the main stage, especially the wood circle where the microphone stands. This circle came from the original stage at the Ryman Theater, where the Opry originated. Johnny Cash and June Carter, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill and countless other heroes have stood on those boards and played their songs.

I walked out on the stage and stepped inside. I heard the wood creak under my feet, felt the rhythm ghosts from a thousand songs come straight up through my boots. All those voices, the ones who had called out some of the best music ever written, were begging me to join them. I got the guitar out, grabbed a stool from behind the piano, and just sat there playing and singing for about 30 minutes, soaking it all in, listening to the echoes.

To stand in the place where Hank stood is a big damned deal.

The theater was empty, but this morning I felt like was singing with the angels.

Repeating Yourself


It’s 1995 or ‘96, and someone, I’m still not sure who, has shelled out $750 for a voice lesson with Warren Barigian. He’s from California, the guy who got Meat Loaf singing again, has worked with countless rock and opera stars. Bonnie Raitt. Jackson Browne. This better be good. That’s a lot of money.

We’re in a hotel suite in Austin. He comes in, walks around me a couple of times, pokes me in my chest with his finger, lightly. I let out a yelp. He’s definitely hit some sort of a nerve. He tells me I’m holding a lot of old stress in my body. Thanks.

He sits down, says, “Pick a line from any song and sing it ten different ways.”
No problem. I choose the opening lines from an old standard.

“Skylark, have you anything to say to me…”

I get three passes in before he stops me.
“You’re repeating yourself. I said different. Try it again.”

I start in once more, after a couple of attempts, it’s the same thing, “You’re repeating yourself. Try harder.”

Three more times we do this dance before he stops me.

“Look, you’re still repeating yourself. Stop worrying about the notes and just sing.
Every time you repeat yourself you’re cutting off your creativity.”

Then he turns around and walks out of the room. The lesson was over.

No matter what you’re doing, act like there’s no tomorrow, as if this is the first time, and the last time.

When you sing, sing that moment.
The details will take care of themselves.

My voice is less than perfect. It is what it is. But the way I sing, and how I bring myself to it, will never be quite the same.

That is a well-spent $750.

© 2015 Darden Smith