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Chris Smith: News

Sun, Aug 27th, 2006 12:00 AM PDT

Find all the "100 Greats" post

Just rolled over 100 Greats post #50, dedicated to Robin Williamson. Get on over to the blog and check them out. I'd love to hear your comments.
Mon, Aug 7th, 2006 12:00 AM PDT

100 Greats in 100 Days: # 002: Zappa: You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, vol. 3

Zappa led the most virtuosic, most responsive, most detailed, and funniest electric bands that ever existed. The complexity of the compositions and the casual facility with which the band tossed them off made the "art-rockers" seem like pretentious adolescents, the political and social critique made the MC5 sound like thugs, and the pure fun of the band made everybody else seemed labored and dour. Musicians played with Zappa (admittedly off-and-on) for decades, and even the new guys rehearsed 5 days a week for 3 months before they went out on the road.

The YCDTOS series (6 double discs) documents various permutations of the Zappa touring bands, from all eras and with all different kinds of characters. Vol #3 documents the '84 band (with occasional interpolations from other eras), which included a couple of fantastic technicians (drummer Chad Wackerman), a couple of absolutely distinctive and original instrumentalists (bassist Scott Thunes), and, most especially, perhaps Zappa's greatest cast of vocalists: keyboardist Bobby Martin, guitarists Ray White and Ike Willis (the latter especially a cornerstone of FZ's bands) and saxophonist Napoleon Murphy Brock. In turn, this makes for a fantastic series of vocal features, particularly focusing on the doowop, r&b, and electric blues styles on which Zappa cut his teeth.

Essential for understanding the genius of the live Zappa.
Mon, Aug 7th, 2006 12:00 AM PDT

100 Greats in 100 Days: # 001: The Harder They Come

Jimmy Cliff et al: The Harder They Come (soundtrack).

Oh, my God. Desmond Dekker, Toots and the Maytals, The Melodians, the Slickers, and Jimmy himself. This was the soundtrack to the first full-length feature film shot in Jamaica (1972), which took off from a series of folk tales about a legendary ghetto gunman called Rhygin. He became a media star before being shot down in 1948. The film gives him a back-story as a singing star ripped off in the Trenchtown manner.

The music is absolutely incredible. It captures a moment when Jamaican popular music, melding indigenous religious styles of percussion, the influence of American r&b and gospel via radio, and original songwriters. Rock-steady, ska, and reggae all represented here. This was the first Jamaican LP to hit the US/UK top 10 charts and it's absolutely fucking incredible. Cornerstone of a Jamaican music collection.
Mon, Aug 7th, 2006 12:00 AM PDT

"100 Greats"

From now on will be posting copies of the "100 Greats in 100 Days" I've been posting over at the Coyotebanjo blog. Posting two a day 'til I get caught up (into the 40s now).
Mon, Oct 24th, 2005 12:00 AM PDT


[Originates as a rebuttal to some fairly simplistic stuff said by another correspondent about "slow sessoins"]

I've led slow sessions for 10 years but take Michael's points--though not his conclusions.

Caveat: when I say "slow session", it's really a misnomer: my teaching sessions (my preferred nomenclature) are overwhelmingly (like, 90% of meeting time) toward teaching repertoire: phrase-by-phrase, learning by ear, memorizing tunes, demonstration-imitation, etc. It is very similar to the way that a great deal of tutoring is handled at the summer schools: much technique, aural skill, melodic retention, etc is taught in the overarching context of learning tunes.

Many people in the USA grow up outside the epicenters of the music and in their attempts to learn the music without the right sources often get the music wrong: trying to learn from notation, trying to learn the "arrangements" of their favorite bands, not listening enough, having no contact with master teachers who can teach in the body, etc.

I don't think that slow sessions (as I've described above) miss the point. I think they represent a different phenomenon than a proper session.

No argument that all players at all levels ought "to have as much exposure as they can to this music played as it should be." But that is a separate issue from providing the tools for an entering player to begin to learn to teach her/himself.

My observation is that most entering players from outside the Irish context have a lot of work to do on learning-and-playing by ear, on melodic retention, on being patient, etc. Teaching sessions can accomplish this.

I agree absolutely with Michael that it is a mistake to "spend time learning more and more tunes when you really can't play any of them properly, yet," and that one ought not "worry about learning more tunes. Learn to play the ones you know."

However, I don't feel that the above is displaced or distorted by learning in a slow session setting.

"Slow sessions are about feeling safe in the company of likewise."

Disagree. I would argue that teaching sessions as I've described above are about *acquiring skills and tools*: technique, repertoire, phrasing, interpretation, memorization, ears.

Absolutely agree that "you should always strive to play with your betters" and that "it's about taking risks." But, as I do not believe that the "slow session is about "feeling comfortable," I do not believe that the teaching session works against learning to take and trust risks.

"Can you imagine what goes through the head of the slow session leader? They are usually a mediocre player in the proper session and once a week they get to bet the best in the room. Pathetic."

OK, Michael. Leaving the issue of my own "pathetic" skills out of the equation, I'll be sure to pass on your observations to the players I know who lead teaching sessions as I've described--they'll get a grin out of it anyway. ;-)

Mind you, I'd absolutely agree with what I perceive to be one of Michael's underlying points--that the music can sustain, withstand, and even demand that players make real efforts to get better. The music deserves and rewards such effort.
Fri, Oct 21st, 2005 12:00 AM PDT

Things Traditional Music Taught Me

[NB: I received this as an email through a very complicated chain of forwards. If you recognize this and/or know the original author, please do be in touch with me using so that I can provide proper attributions.]

[the following is pretty funny]

Things Traditional Music Taught Me

(or, What to Tell Your Children when "Just Say No" doesn't work)


Don't ignore warnings. If someone tells you to beware of Long Lankin, friggin' beware of him. If someone tells you not to go by Carterhaugh, stay away. Same goes for your mother asking you not to go out hunting on a particular day. Portents about weather, particularly when delivered by an old sailor who is not currently chatting up a country maid, are always worth heeding.

If someone says that he's planning to kill you, believe him.

If someone says he's going to die, believe him.

Avoid navigable waterways. Don't let yourself be talked into going down by the wild rippling water, the wan water, the salt sea shore, the strand, the lowlands low, the Burning Thames, and any area where the grass grows green on the banks of some pool. Cliffs overlooking navigable waterways aren't safe either.

Broom, as in the plant, should be given a wide berth.

Stay away from the greenwood side, too.

Avoid situations where the obvious rhyme-word is "maidenhead."

If you look at the calendar and discover it's May, stay home.

The flowing bowl is best quaffed at home. Don't drink with strangers. Don't drink alone. Don't toss the cups or pass the jar about in bars where you haven't arranged to keep a tab. Drinks of unusual or uncertain provenance should be viewed askance, especially if you're offered them by charming members of the opposite sex. Finally, never get drunk and pass out in a bar called the "Cape Horn."

Members of press gangs seldom tell the truth. Recruiting sergeants will fib to you shamelessly. They are not your friends, even if they're buying the drinks. Especially when they're buying the drinks.

If you're drinking toasts, mention your One True Love early and often.

If you're a young lady, dressing yourself in men's array and joining the army or the navy has all sorts of comic possibilities, but you yourself aren't going to find it too darned humorous at the time.

If you are an unmarried lady and have sex, you will get pregnant. No good will come of it.

If you are physically unable to get pregnant due to being male, the girl you had sex with will get pregnant. No good will come of it. You'll either kill her, or she'll kill herself, or her husband/brother/father/uncle/cousin will kill you both. In any case her Doleful Ghost will make sure everyone finds out. You will either get hanged, kill yourself, or be carried off bodily by Satan. Your last words will begin "Come all ye."

Going to sea to avoid marrying your sweetie is an option, but if she hangs herself after your departure (and it's even money that she's going to) her Doleful Ghost will arrive on board your ship and the last three stanzas of your life will purely suck.

If you are a young gentleman who had sex it is possible the girl won't get pregnant. In those rare instances you will either get Saint Cynthia's Fire or the Great Pox instead. No good will have come of it.

New York Girls, like Liverpool Judies, like the ladies of Limehouse, Yarmouth, Portsmouth, Gosport, and/or Baltimore, know how to show sailors a good time, if by "good time" you mean losing all your money, your clothes, and your dignity. Note: All of these places are near navigable waterways. In practical terms this means that if you're a sailor you're screwed (and so are any young ladies you happen to meet). See also: Great Pox; Doleful Ghost.

If you are a young lady do not allow young men into your garden. Or let them steal your thyme. Or agree to handle their ramrods while they're hunting the bonny brown hare. Cuckoo's nests are right out. And never stand sae the back o' yer dress is up agin the wa' (for if ye do ye may safely say yer thing-a-ma-jig's awa').

Never let a stranger teach you a new game. No good will come of it.

Sharing a boyfriend with your sister is a bad plan.

Having more than one True Love at a time is a non-starter.

If you're a brunette, give up. Not that being a blonde will improve the odds much.

If your name is Janet, change it.

If you are a young lady and an amorous soldier, sailor, ploughboy, blacksmith, cavalry officer, or other young man fails to stop the first time you tell him he's being too bold, knock off the maidenly protests and take more direct measures. If saying "no" the first time didn't stop him, you've no reason to believe that twice will work any better.

Professions to be particularly wary of: clerks, salty sailors, serving maids, blacksmiths, highwaymen, gamblers, rank robbers, stonemasons, soldiers, tinkers, and millers. Anyone described as "jolly," "bold," or "saucy." Supernatural creatures are best avoided. If they can't be avoided, they should be addressed respectfully. If a supernatural creature sets you a task you're well and truly screwed.

If you are a young lady and a soldier promises to "marry you in the morn," it means he's already married. And has kids. And he's not going to marry you anyway. Even if you're pregnant. Which you will be.

If you're a young unmarried lady with child, and your pregnancy embarrasses or inconveniences someone else, consider yourself a sitting duck. Don't meet with your young gentleman alone, or at odd hours, or in isolated locations, even if he says he's taking you to be married. Next thing you know your Doleful Ghost will be telling your mother all about it. While he may say "Come all ye.." in the last stanza or two this will be small comfort.

Young ladies who feel uneasy should always act on their feelings. If in your good opinion you fear some young man (however handsome, rich, and well-spoken) is some rake, depend upon it: He's a rake. Rakes will protest that you have them all wrong. They'll be fibbing. Never go anywhere with a rake, particularly to isolated spots. See above Doleful Ghost.

If you are a young lady and someone arrives to tell you that your boyfriend was slain on a foreign battlefield, take it with a grain of salt. Especially if you're carrying a broken token.

If a former significant other turns up unexpectedly after a long absence, don't throw yourself into his/her arms right away.

That goes double if they refuse to eat anything.

Triple if they turn up at night and want you to leave with them immediately.

Have nothing to do with former boyfriends who turn up and say it's no big deal that you're now married to someone else and have a child. If their intentions are legit, that's got to be a problem. If it's not a problem, their intentions are not legit.

You are justified in cherishing the direst suspicions of a suddenly and unexpectedly returned significant other who mentions a long journey, a far shore, or a narrow bed, or who's oddly skittish about the imminent arrival of cockcrow.

If you are a young lady and you meet a young man who says his name is "Ramble Away," don't be surprised if, by the time you know you're pregnant, it turns out he's moved and left no forwarding address.

A fellow who's a massively accomplished flirt hasn't been spending his time sitting around waiting for his One True Love to come along. Furthermore, odds are poor that you'll turn out to be his One True Love who will reform him.

If you arrange an assignation with your new sweetie, a little foot page will be listening in and will carry the news to exactly the last person you'd want to hear the story.

If your girlfriend insists that you go back to sleep after some odd sound woke you, it's time to dive out the window and run for the hills right then.

If you're hiding in the hills, don't inform anyone exactly where you're sleeping, particularly not an attractive member of the opposite sex.

If your girlfriend serves eels in eel broo, make sure you see her eat some first.

Informing your current significant other that you're about to be wed to someone else is risky. Even if you're doing it as a joke, or to test their love. Especially if you're doing it as a joke or to test their love. Testing someone's love in general isn't too bright.

Not even sending a talking goshawk to tell your significant other that the engagement is off will help you. You're going to find yourself at the bottom of a well full fifty fathoms deep. A Doleful Ghost may get involved.

If, after you inform your current significant other that you're to be wed to someone else, he or she suggests that the two of you meet in some lonely spot for one last fling, do not go.

Inviting your old flame to your wedding is a bad idea. If your old flame invites you to his/her wedding, leave town.

If your old flame shows up uninvited at your wedding, start eyeing the exits. There's a chance he/she is a Doleful Ghost. Be that as it may, no good will come of it.

If you're out hunting, make sure of your sight picture before you pull the trigger/loose your bow. Especially so if you're near a navigable waterway or the greenwood side.

Do not allow the words "I wish" to pass your lips. Also avoid oaths, particularly when you're near navigable waterways or the greenwood side.

If the jailer indicates his willingness to take your gay gold ring to carry a message to your sweetheart, see if he'll take that same gay gold ring to leave the door open and look the other way for five minutes while you or the sweetheart (as appropriate) escape.

Always use the buddy system. "Bare is brotherless back," as Grettir the Strong put it; and if Grettir was worried about going places alone, you'd better worry too. So bring a friend with you. Friends keep bad things from happening. If things go badly anyway, you'll need their help. And if things go well (hey, it could happen), it'll be nice to have a friend along to share the laughs.

Pop quiz:

You are a beautiful young lady named Janet. On the first of May you meet a man in a patch of broom down by the greenwoodside. He invites you to his home on the far side of the sea, and earnestly entreats you to keep his invitation secret from your parents. The ship is leaving right away, this very night!

What should you do?

A) Woo hoo, sounds like fun! You'll go, have a great time, and return home happy, healthy, and with some great gossip for your chums.

B) You blow loudly on a police whistle and run home as if jet-propelled. You tell mom and dad what just went down, put on a Stetson, and load your forty-four caliber revolver with silver bullets.

C) You decide that it would save everyone concerned a great deal of trouble if you skipped ahead a bit and hanged yourself right now. Your Doleful Ghost informs mom of the situation.

D) Rather than go with him you disguise yourself as a man and join the Army. Next time you're marching through the Lowlands Low you seduce a beautiful young lady. She is so amazed to discover that she isn't pregnant that she hangs herself. Her Doleful Ghost gets confused and drives the young man you met down by the greenwoodside mad. He delivers a long speech that begins "Come all ye wild and roving lads a warning take by me."
Wed, Oct 19th, 2005 12:00 AM PDT

[Coyotebanjo] Clean work in Public Radio

Radio is going a lot of strange places in the new millenia (and is perpetually under attack by Republicans trying to blame Corporation for Public Broadcasting for an unbalanced budget) but public radio is still clean work. Nobody in public radio gets rich, most could make more money elsewhere, almost everybody involved does it because they believe in the way that it adds to local communities' quality of life. Donate here to Lubbock's KOHM (89.1,
Tue, Oct 18th, 2005 12:00 AM PDT

[Coyotebanjo] Spring courses in musicology and ethnomusicology at Texas Tech

I'm teaching my usual load in Spring 2006 (including MUHL2303 Music as Cultural History: The Modern Period, and MUHL5336: Music in the United States), but am also pleased about having added an overload course taught through the TTU Honors College, as follows:

HONS 3304-H02 Music, Folklore, and Tradition in Irish Cultural History (Call #15942) Prof. C.J. Smith TR 9:30-10:50 AD 245

NOTE: This class is open to those with and without prior musical training.

This seminar is an intensive, topics-oriented survey of the styles, practices, and cultures of music and oral tradition in Ireland since St. Patrick. Drawing on lectures, reading, listening, audio/visual sources, in-class performances, and individual research, this course provides students with an enhanced learning experience combining approaches from folklore, ethnomusicology, cultural and literary history, performance studies, anthropology, geography, and more. Exploring the interaction between music and other aspects of cultural expressionâ€"talking, reading, listening, playing, and singing togetherâ€"we will discover Irish influences from and to the other Celtic nations and to global communities; the interaction of orality, memory, texts, music, dance, and the sacred; and the impact of the Irish Diaspora on music and culture worldwide. Tracing the Irish tradition’s histories, influences, and modern permutations, and examining them on recordings, video, and in live performance, we will expand our own artistic and intellectual insight and cross-cultural sophistication. Our theme will be the complex combinations of social, historical, political, colonial, economic, biographical, and artistic factors which have shaped Irish culture and identity over the last two millennia. Intersession study abroad: A final component of HONS3304 will be a spring intersession trip to the West of Ireland, May 13-28, during which Dr Smith will lead day trips, musical expeditions, and roaming seminars on music, folklore, and cultural history in the Irish countryside. Participation in this trip is a mandatory part of the course and Study Abroad scholarship assistance is available. THIS COURSE FULFILLS THE HONORS SEMINAR AND CORE CURRICULUM VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS REQUIREMENTS.
Tue, Oct 18th, 2005 12:00 AM PDT

[Coyotebanjo] Great post on Irish fried breakfast

Serena-abroad has a great post on the traditional Irish fried breakfast. Mandatory reading for my Honors seminar in Spring 2006: "Music, Folklore, and Tradition in Irish Cultural History."

What she neglects to mention is that the single advantage of the traditional fry is that it'll carry you through until dinner--and it's including in the B&B price. Excellent for youthful budgets and digestive tracts.
Tue, Oct 18th, 2005 12:00 AM PDT

Check out the blog

Still working on synchronizing the blog with this Journal. If you know how to tell a blogspot account to forward to a guestbook, drop me a line at
Wed, Sep 7th, 2005 12:00 AM PDT

Visit the blog

Jottings here but also at