La Crosse Local

E. 220: Johnsmith | Singer/Songwriter

Listen to “E. 220: Johnsmith | Singer/Songwriter” on Spreaker.

I went off to college in southern California, while I was there I ended up getting my first guitar…started writing songs…early on I felt it was better for me to write my own songs then try to cover people.

We had the opportunity to chat with Johnsmith, we talked influences, his process for songwriting and recording, how covid got in the way of touring, favorite shows and festivals, and some upcoming shows in the area.

La Crosse Local is proud sponsor of the La Crosse Winter Roots Festival.

John Smith 01:36
My name is John Smith. And but I often pretty much business wise go by JohnSmith all one word. I was born in Iowa in a little town DeWitt, down by Davenport and grew up there. And then when I was in high school, I was one of the bazillions that were really affected by the whole Beatle thing on Ed Sullivan. And you know, within a year or two, there were garage bands in pretty much every town in the country. And people who had never played before just went out bought guitars and figured out how to play a few chords and learn a few songs themselves. I didn’t play then, I just sang. I had a bunch of buddies that started a band and everybody was afraid to sing. And I was kind of one of those kids that sang all the time. And so I became kind of a singer doing we did a lot of Rolling Stones. I was going to Mick Jagger type. Anyway, so I did that. And then I went off to college in Southern California. While I was there, I ended up getting my first guitar and started writing songs pretty much right away, probably within a week or two of getting a guitar. I went out and, you know, bought a chord book, and started learning chords and started writing real basic, very basic kinds of songs. I couldn’t play one of them right now if you put a gun to my head. But it was a good thing for me. And I don’t know, I was just one of those people that early on felt like it was better for me to write my own songs then try to cover people. But I did. I mean, I did some cover stuff you have to at first, you know, when you’re when you first start and you’re playing in bars and stuff like that. So that’s kind of what people sort of expect. But I would I’ve always been able to do like a 50/50 thing back even in those days. But I would cover Jackson Browne and James Taylor and Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. You know, people like that, Buffalo Springfield, early Crosby, Stills and Nash stuff. So those were kind of my influences.

Brent Hanifl 03:39
So you know, you mentioned quite a few there. Is there one that sticks out? Is that your top influence or is it kind of a, you know, a culmination of a group of them?

John Smith 03:48
Yeah, I’d say it was kind of a combination of old Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and Jackson still is today. To this day, Jackson Browne still works for me. I mean, just sometime in the last months, he put out just a great video and saw that it was really about the just the hardships of especially Hispanic women that are cleaning hotels, and, you know, I mean, and trying to hold families together, greats. I still really respect him because he brings a level of not just consciousness. I don’t know if that’s the right word. But I don’t want to say it’s politics, because it’s not, it’s a better, better word than that. It’s about walking the talk, I guess.

Brent Hanifl 04:33
Looking on your website at You’re on your eighth solo CD?

John Smith 04:39
Yeah, I think I’m on my ninth one.

Brent Hanifl 04:41
You’re on your ninth. So what’s the songwriting process for you? Is it something that’s fast and easy? Or is it something that takes a little time?

John Smith 04:48
I mean, it’s both. It’s both of those things. Sometimes I get songs pretty quick and can get most of it in a day. But mostly, it’s probably process, like you say, and usually starts out with a good verse chorus or something. And then, and I teach songwriting a lot. So I take the whole process really serious. And it’s, you know, it’s the most important piece of the puzzle of what I’ve done for my whole life is writing songs. And so it just depends, some songs are a lot more serious about something that really is cooking inside me. But usually, the process for me is, has a big inward kind of a thing to it, some songs more than others. When I say inward, I just mean, what’s going on inside me emotionally and spiritually, I guess. So the best word I can think for. So I write songs that are kind of bigger, by outlook on the world, or I think all songwriters, really, when you think about it or not, are always expressing their truth, whether it’s real, real simple truth that she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. Or whether it’s some serious complex, Leonard Cohen, or Bob Dylan song, or something like that. So, so I kinda, and I really do kind of bridge a really wide spectrum of stuff that I, but a lot of time songs take a lot of refining. For me. And, you know, you don’t want to work on something to death. But at the same time, you know, you learn a lot more songwriting, craft and skills, as you go on and your bar for quality just gets higher and higher, and you know, when you’re reaching it, and when you’re not reaching like this song isn’t done yet. And then usually, I might wait days, I’d take it for a walk, literally, I’ll go for a walk and just think about what’s that third verse, that third verse is really important, you know, instead of just writing another song that’s just like the first or second. So I don’t know if that answers your question. Process, but it’s a pretty evolved involved process.

Brent Hanifl 06:59
So for someone like yourself, before COVID, you’ve been touring around the country pretty regularly for a number of decades. How did COVID affect your process in terms of writing and just your day to day life?

John Smith 07:14
For me, there were a lot of silver linings with COVID, there’s even a part of me that was just thinking yesterday or today, earlier today, I missed part of that. Almost like being in the womb, kind of thing I wrote quite a bit. I wrote quite a bit during COVID. And I did quite a bit of zoom teaching, you know, and stuff. And I did quite a few, you know, I did quite a few Facebook Live Concert kind of thing. So but yet, like everybody was, it was all at home, I kind of looked a little deeper inside. I really took the time for COVID to kind of just really take the time to kind of look inward a little bit more, just be more mindful about everything about my health, exercise, eating. I didn’t drink at all during COVID just stuff that kind of taking care of me and just kind of exploring that, that level a little bit more. And it was good. Very, very healthy. And so now that life is kind of ramping back up again. There’s part of me that misses that.

Brent Hanifl 08:25
Just being on the road quite a bit for a number of years. Are there any favorite shows or festivals you look forward to that you’re maybe looking forward in the future or kind of relaxed and still or?

John Smith 08:35
Yeah, but nothing’s ramping up here too fast. It just seems like you know, I play a lot with Dan Sebranek, local musician, we’ve been playing together for 34 years. And, you know, we have a trip going out west and three out of our four gigs have fallen through, sort of because of COVID at the last minute, that’ll be next month. So now we have to decide to go out for one big gig or not. And we probably will because there’s nothing else to do. So it’s been that part is really been challenging. So I love going out to Colorado every year I go. Probably my biggest sort of main home festival I attend every year is the Kerviel Folk Festival. It’s down in Texas. It’s in the Hill Country, a couple hours from Austin and I’ve been going there since ’89. So a long time, 30 some years and I’ll be going back this next Memorial Day. It’s a big festival like these two or three weekends long, like 12 to 18 days. I just go down for a long five or six but I’ll go down there and play and it says first of all, it’s all about songwriting. And it was a big place that kind of boosted and sort of launched me stepping into you know playing folk clubs and festivals around the country. I also love going out. I don’t go every year but I’ve played many times at the sisters Oregon Folk Festival. I love that one. I played a lot at the Woody Guthrie Festival down in Okema, Oklahoma. Locally, I love playing at the Pump House every January, usually two nights there. And then I also love Leo and Leona’s out on Highway 33 in Newburgh. Just played there, buddy Dan and Larry Dalton, the bass player and then Rattus La Florkovitch, kind of a little band thing. He plays piano and accordion. I love Leo and Leonas and I love Larry Fest, too. I play that every year, that’s a real family thing for me, all my kids and grandkids call, my daughter’s got a little band called Crooked Willow. And they come and so those are, those are some of them, I go to California every year as well. I don’t play as many gigs as I used to. But I teach songwriting out there every year, and I love California.

Brent Hanifl 10:52
You know, I know the tour may be coming up a little bit and the Pump House show in early 2022. What’s next for you? Do you have any new music on the horizon? Or any big projects coming up?

John Smith 11:04
Yeah, the biggest project in front of me is a new CD. I recorded all the tracks with bass and drums and myself and Dan on guitar, a bunch of vocals with Dan and my daughter, myself, and I’m going to send out for a few more remote things for people to play on. And so hopefully, I’ll have that in hand for the Pump House, I think which is the 13th, 14th to 14th, 15th whatever it is of January that’s Friday, Saturday there. So yeah, a new CD is a big thing. I have to fly out east to DC later next month and start the mixing process. And so that’s always kind of a big thing that kind of although it’s such a different beast now doing CDs and recording like how do you get them out there and people my age have their own way we do it that doesn’t work anymore? Very well. But you still have to do it. You know, you write the songs, you have to record them and you get them out there in the world. But you can.

Brent Hanifl 12:09
So on that note, if people want to find out more about you, what’s the best avenue for them to go to?

John Smith 12:14
I suppose just John Smith Music, is my website. And anyway and then making this record at the Pump House. And then next year, same thing, play some festivals, kind of work this new CD a little bit and do some teaching that will continue to do those kinds of things. I love teaching, songwriting, and helping people kinda get on that songwriting path and to help them dig a little deeper. And, you know, write songs that are a little more meaningful for them. Yeah.

Brent Hanifl 12:52
Cool. So if people want to check you out, they just go to They could find your CDs and your tour, and also potentially connect with you on guitar lessons and stuff like that?

John Smith 13:04
Yeah no guitar lessons, but songwriting lessons.

Brent Hanifl 13:06
Songwriting lessons, alright, sorry.

John Smith 13:08
Yeah I play guitar and I’ve been playing a long time, but I don’t teach guitar.

Amy Gabay 13:16
La Crosse Local Podcast is a production of River Travel Media. Do you have an interview idea you’d like to share with us? Message us on Facebook at La Crosse Local. Find out more about us at and you can subscribe to the La Crosse Local Podcast on your favorite podcast app. If you like us, rate us five stars. We appreciate it.

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