Guitar Master Richard Smith at Heartwood Soundstage
It’s very possible you’ve never heard of Richard Smith, unless you’re a musician (and especially a guitar player). The UK-born fingerstyle player prodigy learned his first song at age 5 and first caught international attention when he was an 11-year-old and played duets with Chet Atkins, his hero at the time. He moved to Nashville in 1999 and has remained there ever since, recording, touring and performing with some of the world’s best-known musicians: his idol Chet, Les Paul, Eric Clapton, Boots Randolph, Tommy Emmanuel, John Jorgenson, and many more. In 2018 alone he performed on five continents.
His solo performance at Gainesville’s Heartwood Soundstage was a genre-defying tour across the planet via his fingerboard. Influenced very early in life by Jerry Reed, he began his evening with three Reed songs and then proceeded on a trip through ragtime, jazz, stride piano, flamenco, swing, Paraguayan dance songs, Chopin, Bach, and traditional American music, from Scott Joplin and Ray Charles to Merle Travis and Jerry Jeff Walker. It was a dizzying display of skill. Playing his custom classical guitar, he treated every song lovingly. Occasionally retuning to dropped D and open tunings, I was struck by his perfect bass lines and variations that personalized each song. As many times as I’ve heard Doc Watson’s “Windy and Warm,” he added a little syncopation and alternative chords to make it his own. “Georgia” was filled with tone and emotion. Some of his chord shape variations were remarkable, like in this clip from his version of Travis’s “Walking the Strings”.
He sang only a few songs; a fun version of “Tennessee Waltz” has been a staple of his shows, and Merle Travis’s “So Round So Firm So Fully Packed” was a glimpse into the history of ’50s advertising. He ended the night with a fine vocal cover of Sinatra’s classic “If I Had You.” Given the amount of time he’s on the road, you’re almost certain to come across a Richard Smith show. Now that you’ve heard of him, don’t pass up a chance to see one of the finest guitarists alive.