Congratulations to Bill Smith, the winner of this year’s Jim Lauderdale Songwriter of the Year. This award was named after Jim Lauderdale at our inaugural awards presentation in 2015. Jim Lauderdale has attended several of our awards shows, with our national spokesman Bill Kirchen, and has also appeared many times at the Sportsmen’s Tavern.
James Russell Lauderdale is an American country, bluegrass and Americana singer-songwriter. Since 1986, he has released 27 studio albums, including collaborations with artists such as Dr. Ralph Stanley, Buddy Miller and Donna the Buffalo. A “songwriter’s songwriter,” his songs have been recorded by dozens of artists, notably George Strait, Gary Allan, Elvis Costello, Blake Shelton, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill and Patty Loveless. Most recently, Lauderdale was honored Sept. 21, 2016, in Nashville at the Americana Honors and Awards show with the WagonMaster Lifetime Achievement Award.
Previous Songwriter of the Year award winners are Leroy Townes in 2015, Alison Pipitone in 2016 and Willie Schoellkopf in 2017.
Bill Smith is the frontman, primary singer and the songwriter of Ten Cent Howl, unquestionably one of the finest bands to ever come out of WNY. In my view if they weren’t tied down with their day jobs, they’d have real potential for making it out on the road, spreading their music around the country.
Or, as Jeff Miers of the Buffalo News put it, “Ten Cent Howl in particular managed to marry the influences of bluegrass, rockabilly, primal rock ’n’ roll and Pogues-like punk-folk with strength and vitality.”
I talked to Bill after the award was presented and asked him a few questions about his musical life.
SAMF: Congratulations Bill, this was a long time coming considering the standout songs you’re written.
BILL: Thanks, Bob. I was happy to wait my turn behind great songwriters like Leroy, Allison and Willie.
SAMF: What started you off with music and performing?
BILL: My father, Bill Sr., started me off playing guitar when I was 9 years old. He has been playing in blues and classic rock bands around the Southern Tier all his life. My first time performing, I was 12 years old when my dad dragged me up on stage to play that old Georgia Satellites tune “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” at a lakeside bar in Silver Creek. After that, I started my own band in high school with some friends, wrote some songs, and haven’t quit performing since.
SAMF: What was the first song you wrote? What was it about?
BILL: First tune I wrote I would have been about 15 or 16 at the time and it was called “Arkwright,” named after a rural town in the hills outside Fredonia. My friends and I used to camp down in the gorges of Canadaway Creek there between a couple waterfalls. It’s a very beautiful and inspirational place. The song was about my newly found spiritual connection to nature at the time. I don’t really play it anymore because it was honestly a bit cheesy, but my friends loved it, so that got the ball rolling on my songwriting.
SAMF: How many songs have you written? How many albums? What’s the ratio of originals and cover songs on your albums? Live shows?
BILL: I’ve written many songs, and many of which I’ve never shared. I’ve recorded seven albums, all original. I do play some of my favorite covers at live shows, but I prefer to play originals, and people seem to like my tunes anyway, sometimes not even realizing they’re mine.
SAMF: What’s your writing process? What inspires you? Lyrics first or melody?
BILL: I’m inspired by many things. Nature, love, life, God, tragedy, etc. … I was told the other day that I write sad songs that make people feel happy. I guess I kind of like that idea. Typically, I’ll get a melody in my head first and then start to fill in the lyrics based on the feel of the melody and chords.
SAMF: “Damned If I Do,” “Goin’ Back,” “My Dying Town,” “Downtime”? What’s the inspiration?
BILL: “Damned” … Love lost and found
“Goin’ Back” …Returning to my rural hometown
“Dying Town” … Civic pride in an urban wasteland
“Downtime” … Frustration with relationships and needing to step away.
SAMF: Are you working on new material?
BILL: Always. The Howl just recorded an eight-song live album over a couple sessions at Mark Studio in Clarence. All new stuff that we’ve started playing with the new outfit.
SAMF: Tell me about the history of Ten Cent Howl?
BILL: Jerry, Peter, Luke and Sasha are all extremely talented and dear friends of mine who I love playing music with. I am extremely lucky. Some of the players have changed over the years, but the music and friendships remain. Jerry and I have been playing together the longest, since we met in the late ‘90s, back in college at Fredonia. He has really been the backbone of the band.
SAMF: What do you do when you’re not writing or playing music?
BILL: Work as an urban planner at the Medical Campus, spend time with my beautiful wife and family, work on the house, volunteer on the town planning board, hiking, fishing, etc. … all sorts of shit.
SAMF: Is the band planning to go on the road at all?
BILL: Would love to plan a tour, but nothing scheduled at this time.
SAMF: Since you’ve been so well received in Scotland, when is the tour of the Highlands going to happen? (Americana UK, a Scottish Highlands internet radio station, picked up on “Damned If I Do” from the album “Ain’t It Strange”)
BILL: Ha! If you want to fund it, Bob, we’re all in!
SAMF: Any big plans for 2019?
BILL: We have a bunch of good shows on the calendar and the new live album to spread around. Should be a good year.
SAMF: What shows are coming up in the next few months?
BILL: January 25, 9:30 at Sportsmens Tavern is next, followed by January 27 at Pollywogg Holler’s Winterfest (contact us for tickets). A couple at Dino BBQ, Buffalo Distilling, Penny Lane Cafe. See our website and FB page for the details.
SAMF: Thanks for your music and all the great times you’ve provided for Americana music lovers in WNY.
Ten Cent Howl’s website is at https://www.tencenthowl.com
The Howl is on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TenCentHowl