Note to Wichita police: Don’t interrupt Corey Smith’s show at The Cotillion on Saturday unless you want to end up in his next song.
That’s what happened to lawmen in Chattanooga, Tenn., in September after they allegedly pressured a club to pull the plug on Smith’s act during a song critical of police. The song, whose title and chorus contain an expletive, has become one of the singer’s most popular.
It took Smith only a few days to record and post on his website a new song about the dust-up, called “Chattanooga” and containing the same expletive.
“It’s more humorous than anything,” Smith said of the song.
Smith said he’s not anti-police, just a songwriter relating his experiences.
“After hearing something like that (song), people would be surprised how noncontroversial my show really is,” he said.
Smith is a Georgia-based singer-songwriter who’s built an impressive following in do-it-yourself fashion since quitting his day job as a high school social studies teacher six years ago.
Seven independently-recorded CDs, relentless touring and adroit use of the Internet have made him known to alt-country fans far outside his native Southeast. This is his first stop in Wichita, though he’s played Lawrence and Kansas City several times.
“I’m sort of always on tour,” Smith said. “I don’t go out on tour to support a new record. I put out records to support the tour.”
Smith said his growth as a performer and songwriter was gradual.
“I played a lot of bar gigs where I’d be over in the corner playing everything from Garth Brooks and Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Eagles, Matchbox Twenty and Hootie and the Blowfish,” he said. “The common thread is they had a catchy hook and relatable lyrics, and that influenced the way I write.”
He views songwriting “as a way to cope with things.” After selling CDs full of his own songs to a growing circle of fans, he found himself in enough demand to pursue music full time.
“You hear the word ‘organic’ thrown around a lot these days, but my career has truly been that,” he said. “It’s really been just different ways to get heard by people.”
His songwriting heroes are people like Todd Snider, Paul Simon and Randy Newman, and his output seems split between songs about hard drinking and living and those that cover sensitive singer-songwriter territory.
“For me it’s just a matter of necessity,” he said of writing. “I write as a way of dealing with things.”
His most recent CD, “The Broken Record,” was released earlier this year. He’s sold 900,000 digital singles, and his Facebook page has over 150,000 “likes.”
Smith said it’s important to him that the songwriting process not be “corrupted” by a desire for popularity, but on the other hand he’s happy that a video of his latest single, "Maybe Next Year," has been picked up for rotation on CMT.
Originally a solo acoustic performer, he now travels with a four-piece band.