By MELINDA MARTINEZ, Alexandria Town Talk
ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) — The past 50 years have been a “charmer” for Smithfield Fair.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the group was formerly called Charmer. And even though it was changed in 1989, many in the area still know them by that name.
“We had a big presence in the late ’70s and early ’80s at the Cotton Gin restaurant,” Alexandria native Dudley-Brian Smith said in a phone interview from Baton Rouge. “And so many of our Cenla audience remember us both as the Cotton Gin and as Charmer from whom we changed our name in 1989. Same different band name.”
To celebrate their musical milestone, the trio of Smith, wife Jan Smith and brother Bob Smith of Alexandria released their 50th anniversary celebration collection, “A Place in Your Heart.” This is their 35th album.
Fourteen of the band’s signature songs spanning those 50 years, such as “To Louisiana”, “Goodbye Old Friend”, “Chasing Leaves in a Storm” and “A Place In Your Heart” feature on the album. The songs were chosen based on audience requests, said Smith, who founded the group.
Their music, he said, “falls more easily into the ‘acoustic pop’ or ‘folk pop’ categories, also resonating into ‘vocal pop’ due to the tight harmonies.”
Smith said their connection to central Louisiana is not just in their upbringing, but also in the region’s musical environment. He and Bob “had all kinds of influences” growing up because central Louisiana is the crossroads of the state.
“Our dad was a swing and church musician and a standards singer mother on the radio there,” he said. “We blend these sounds from our youth of swamp pop, gospel, pop, classical, Celtic, swing and more into an amalgam that is both hopeful and full of memories. So many memories of Cenla are also woven into the lyrics, a generally carefree and idyllic time.
Jan, Smith said, brings witty, folk and pop songs together.
“She’s a huge Linda Ronstadt fan,” he said. “So we kind of merge all of these things together and make this kind of music. There’s swamp pop. There’s gospel. There’s blues. There’s jazz. There’s the swing. There is Celtic music. There is a wide variety of things that we draw from and everything finds its place in these songs.
That’s what Smithfield Fair does and always has done, Smith said.
“At the very beginning, we were writing our songs,” he said. “We would find arrangements. And somewhere in there, we’re adapting and drawing from a variety of traditions.
Over the years, Smith believes their music has come together as they have gone through several different side paths.
“For 20 years we were passionate about Scottish music, which is our heritage,” he said. “We grew up with these songs. So we got into it at a time when there was a great folk revival of Celtic music in America – and all over the world in fact. We took advantage of this wave of Celtic music, we spread our music all over the world. We signed with Centaur Records and suddenly we were a big presence in Celtic music.
Then the movement faded and they returned to general music.
“But we came back to our original material with a better idea of the kind of statement we wanted to make,” Smith said. “We wanted to make hopeful music – strong melodies and great harmonies. And less dependence on outside artists too.
The group still maintains ties with central Louisiana. Bob lives and works here, Smith said. Bob and his other brother Joel, own Saxon Studio in Bunkie. The company also sells the band’s CDs.
“Our picture is still on the window of the old River City Music Center on DeSoto, and we have many, many longtime friends there,” Smith said. “We feel like the music from Smithfield Fair resonates with the Alexandria-Pineville area.”
They also performed periodically at the Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center and the Hearn Theater in downtown Alexandria. They were also part of the “A-Town Evenings” concert series organized by the Arts Council of Central Louisiana.
“We even played an impromptu performance at Tamp & Grind,” he said, referring to the cafe in downtown Alexandria. “And of course over the years we’ve played everything from the Colosseum to the clubs there.”
The group hopes to be able to perform in central Louisiana soon, he said. Right now they are taking a break after recording and releasing their latest album. They have upcoming performances scheduled in the fall for places like Dallas and Pensacola, Florida.
“But we hope to return to Alexandria soon. So in the fall or early next year we’ll be back,” Smith said.
In addition to Saxon Studio, their albums are available on their site smithfieldfair.com, amazon.com and on all streaming services.
As for why his first and middle names are cut off, Smith said he moved to Baton Rouge after working in Nashville — and there were two Dudley Smiths. One was a gospel preacher and singer and the other was a country and western singer. So he decided to use his first and middle names to stand out from them. And, he added, he hyphenated “just to make sure both names are on the page and it reinforces that it’s not those guys.”
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