Big Smo visits St. Croix Casino Danbury for an anniversary concert on Saturday, June 17. Tickets are $10. Purchase tickets online at
tempotickets.com/stcroixcasinos or in person at the St. Croix Perks booth. Show time is 8pm. Doors open at 7pm.
“You can tell when something’s real,” says the man known simply as Big Smo. “You can tell when it’s true. And I think what’s made us successful and gotten us this far is that we’re just real people, down-home country folk who really love to make music. People see that.”
Word of mouth, charged by the Internet, meant Smo could count his YouTube views in the millions before he talked to a record label. Low-budget videos showcased his 32-acre farm, which has been passed down for generations, is his home base HQ. Homegrown in Tennessee, the self-proclaimed Boss of the Stix seamlessly weaves his work and play, his lifestyle and music on that farm, as compellingly as he weaves country, rock and hip-hop together.
His loyal fans – who he affectionately calls his Kinfoke – had better get ready to share Big Smo with an even larger audience. The reason begins with the release of his major-label debut (June 3 on Warner Bros. records), titled Kuntry Livin’, a 13-song look inside the mind and music of one of the world’s true originals. Followed by a debut of an A&E original series, “Big Smo,” centered on the country rapper, and it’s obvious this larger-than-life Tennessean has entered new territory – with every bit of the edge that brought him here.
”The most important thing,” Smo says, “is that when we went from being independent artists to being on a label, we didn’t lose any control of who we are or what we do. That’s why the label called us. They told me, ‘We’ll let you drive. We like the way you steer.’ I was like, ‘Cool. I won’t let you down.'”
Produced by John Conner and DJ Orig, Kuntry Livin’ sums up everything that has brought Big Smo to the forefront: the pulse-pounding beats, passionate vocals, electrifying guitars and subject matter that’s pure back-country reality. The album includes the first single, boots-on blue-collar anthem “Workin’,” the country-as-cornbread celebration of roots, “Who I’ll Be,” the work-hard-play-hard life sketch, “Down in the Backwoods,” and the love-gone-wrong tale, “Cover My Eyes.”
Working with Big Smo on individual tracks are songwriters Casey Beathard, Rhett Akins and Jim Beavers, singer Shelly Fairchild, and musicians including Charlie Worsham, Jimmy Stewart, David Yudkin and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Peter Keys.
The A&E Network show, an original series produced by Brownstone Entertainment, is an inside look at Big Smo’s life and career, and the friends, fans and family who share and support his journey.
Called “Hick Ross,” by his Kinfoke, Smo has racked up over 16 million views on YouTube and sold over 150,000 digital tracks. The breakthrough was “Kickin’ It In Tennessee,” a song and video celebration that went viral, helping draw new fans to live shows whose over-the-top energy makes believers, and brought Smo to the attention of Warner Music Nashville senior executives.
His is the story of a country boy catching fire in a digital age, where musical cross-pollination is everywhere. Big Smo’s rise has been fueled by high energy and relatable lyrics, a band with the ability to rock a crowd and the studio savvy to capture that lightning in a bottle. Big Smo owns that place where country, Southern rock and hip hop come together, where the beat rocks the story and the story rocks the beat. An early review put it this way: “If Kid Rock and Run D.M.C. had a love child, he would be named Big Smo.”
His success has been as hard won as it is impressive. What began as two friends—Smo and Orig the DJ—experimenting with samples, beats and lyrics in a makeshift home studio has turned into four independent CDs and now a major-label project, major network original series and hundreds of tour stops before massive crowds from mud parks in Florida to Vegas.
He and his band—Orig, vocalists Alexander King and Haden Carpenter, guitarist Travis Tidwell, bassist Eric Flores and drummer Ryan Peel—have opened for Brantley Gilbert, appeared at 2012’s Bamajam on a bill with Kid Rock and Jamey Johnson, sold out Nashville’s historic Exit/In and rocked the crowd at 2013’s CMA Music Fest. He has toured the nation talking to select radio stations including an early supporter, Nashville-based, nationally syndicated tastemaker Bobby Bones.
Big Smo’s story begins on the farm he grew up on—the farm that is still home. “I can still remember the smell of the fresh cut hay and how blue the sky was,” he says. “I had hard-working grandparents and even harder-working parents that had great family values. I was always into music and was always writing on the side.”
As with so many of his generation, he heard music from both sides of the fence, rural and urban, country (“with an outlaw vibe”) and hip-hop, and both stirred his soul, as did the Southern and classic rock he heard as a teenager.
“When I listen to the music we make today,” he says, “I see all those things in everything we make. The elements are all there and it’s working. People love it because they can relate to it.” Smo adds, “People got into what we were doing and before long we had our first paid gig.” Smo began producing his own CDs with Orig early on, and touring all over the southern U.S., traveling in a converted church bus.
“YouTube became the place for seeing what was happening,” he says, “so we took advantage to get what we were doing out there to the world.” Soon, it led Smo and team to Warner Music Nashville, where the back woods met the power of full-scale national promotion. At bottom, though, is the same wide-ranging love of music and the same bootstrap mentality.
“We were raised on Waylon and Willie, Johnny Cash and Jerry Reed,” he says, “and we were raised on the Beastie Boys and Dirty South, so it’s not a surprise that’s who we’ve become. And that’s the place a whole lot of fans are, loving not just country but hip-hop as well. They’re country people who love to party and have a good time, and love that hip-hop beat and that country story telling. It’s connecting to a lot of people.”
“I wouldn’t trade away anything about the way we did it, because we learned it from the bottom up,” he says. “We paid our dues. I enjoy knowing that’s where we started and here’s where we are today.”