To say that CW Smith is an interesting dude would be an understatement. I've enjoyed talking with him in the past, so when he invited me to his house for coffee on one recent Saturday morning, I eagerly obliged. After making a few introductions to his wife and family pets (he has three cats, and he introduced them to me by name) we made our way downstairs to his studio.
His basement is divided into two parts, One half is a display of guitars, keyboards, and other stringed instruments. In the back sits a complete trap set and a few hand drums. Macintosh computer screens adorn his counter space which he uses to record and mix his music. Nearby is a custom patch bay that he uses to track and layer his songs. He has instruments from every faction of music including a sitar, numerous electric guitars, two baritone guitars, a stand-up bass, a couple of keyboards, the aforementioned drum set and a trumpet. Being in his basement is a lot like being in a music store. He says that when he records an new album, he tries to implement as many instruments into the mix as possible and most of them he plays himself.
"I don't play the keyboards very well," he told me. He said that he brings in Justin Chastain to fill that role on his recordings. "Justin was the keyboard player in my first band, Sound System. 27 years later, he's still my go-to guy when I need a keyboard part."
The other half of his basement is CDs, record albums and cassettes. He also has some open reels and player piano rolls. Heck, he's probably got 8-tracks too.
"At one point it was my goal," he told me to have every available recorded device and something to play it on."
There are literally thousands of CDs, all organized alphabetically and stored in boxes. Each box is labeled and sits on a shelf, completely full. The big wall contains a huge assortment of music with recordings from a wide assortment of artists. The smaller wall (which actually isn't that much smaller) is perhaps what CW is most proud of - it's filled with Beatles music. Almost every Beatles record is there, every CD, every re-issue, every CD that is remastered, CDs that are not necessarily Beatles CDs, but have a Beatle making a cameo appearance (For instance, he has a copy of the 3 CD set Buck Owens Collection 1959-1990 because Ringo Star makes an appearance on "Act Naturally.")... You get the point.
CW stands for Curtis Wade, but nobody calls him that except his wife. "I'm fine with that," he says. Interestingly, his wife once lived in a small town in western Iowa called Pisgah. Pisgah is home of the Old Home Cafe made famous by another CW, C.W. McCall. It is the cafe that was featured on the Old Home Filler-Up Keep On Trucking Cafe commercials from the '70s that launched McCall's career. Smith says that the cafe is still in operation.
CW Smith grew up in Pleasantville, Iowa and has lived in Norwalk, Harford and Des Moines. He graduated high school in Indianola and then attended Iowa State University for a year in 1987. He enjoyed his short tenure in Ames, but while he maintains that Iowa State is a great school, he also maintains that he was not a great student. At the time CW was studying Computer Science, which isn't exactly what an engineering school like Iowa State is known for. After studying for a year, he moved back to Indianola to attend Simpson College. There he he changed his majors to Music and Communication.
|A few of the guitars that CW Smith keeps in his basement studio|
In 1992 he was offered a co-ownership position at Trifecta Studios just north of Easton Boulevard in Des Moines. CW seized this opportunity, and with his business partner, Steve Hudspeth, they operated a full function studio for ten years.
In 2002 the studio closed it's doors, and it's actually where CW acquired much of the equipment and a good amount of the musical instruments that he keeps in his basement today. He keeps busy by playing solo gigs in and around the city. He says that he tries to keep it down to just a few gigs a month, but sometimes the opportunities exceed that. You can find him at various coffee shops in the city or at the occasional neighborhood bar, or at the place where he attends worship, the First Unitarian Church. He's set to play Chuck's Restaurant on August 16.
On August 29th, he will be playing at the Chocolaterie Stam, which is exclusively a dessert restaurant.
When he is not playing music, CW enjoys spending time with his family or working out of the computer shop he owns, CW Smith Computer Services. It is located at 2620 East 9th Street in Des Moines and is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8-5. Tuesdays and Thursdays he prefers to work by appointment only. It is then that he likes to schedule his house calls, and he isn't always necessarily in the shop.
Most of his business comes from fixing computers that are either physically broken or infected with a virus. He is quite adept at working on Windows based machines as well as Macs. "I'm part mechanic," he explains, "and I'm part doctor. I'm part detective, and I'm part guidance counselor."
"I'm also just a good friend to hold your hand," he said with a laugh. "I like to say that sometimes I wish my bank account reflected how busy I am, but I do get honest pay for honest work. I will go above and beyond for my customers."
Sometimes, like at any job, things will get a bit hectic in the shop. For those moments, CW keeps a couple of what he calls "emergency guitars" close by. They are his go-to stress reliever when things get a little crazy. "You just never know." he says.
|A Function of Time|
CW just released A Function of Time, an album that was 20 years in the making. It contains 14 songs, mostly about the modest life that he lives. "I'd say it's semi-autobiographical," he told me as he took a sip of coffee. "There are scenes from my own life, with some fiction thrown in."
The album contains songs about road construction, ("You Can't Get There From Here"), juggling work and family time ("A Function of Time," "Yesterday, a Long Time Ago," "Fall Back in Love With Me"), children's fantasy play ("Under the Radar"), information overload ("Too Much Information"), faith and doubt ("Have Faith In Me," "Leap of Faith"), and the long-term pain of loss ("Eyes of a Common Man.").
"'Don't Mind Me' is pure wordplay," he adds. "Just me having fun with chords and rhymes."
And I don't have a care
I'll just sit right back in a comfortable chair
And I won't feel a thing
As I ponder all the things that the Universe brings to me ..
Baby, don't mind me
When asked about his influences, Smith offers a wide variety, all of which find their way into his musical vein. There's Big Star, David Bowie, Tom Petty and even Television and Crowded House. But he admits that most of his influence comes from The Beatles, whom obviously, CW pays a strong homage to.
While Smith spent 20 years painting the edges around A Function of Time he kept busy with other projects. Before that he released four full-length CDs, all of which were created solo except for I Think There's Something Here and Au Naturel: Raw Naked Tracks which he co-wrote with Rob Straughn. Smith has released four more albums, which are EP length.
"I'm thankful for my songwriting partners, Rob Straughn, Bryan Baker, Justin Chastain, Steve Hudspeth," Smith explained. "I've learned a little from each of them."
You can catch CW Smith live at Mom's Place (910 Hull Avenue) on Friday, August 8th at 9:00 PM. The following night you can see him perform at Green Grounds Cafe in Valley Junction from 3:30-5:30 PM.
The following is a list of his other shows in August and September:
Ritual Cafe: Second Thursday at Ritual Cafe, August 7, 7:00 PM
Chuck's Restaurant: Saturday, August 16, 7:00-10:30 PM
KFMG FM 99.1 on Iowa Homegrown: Sunday, August 24, 4:00 PM
Chocolaterie Stam: Saturday, August 29, 7:00-9:30 PM
Hotel Patee, Perry: Saturday, September 6, 7:00-10:00 PM
Ritual Cafe: Second Thursday at Ritual Cafe, September 11, 7:00-9:00 PM
Green Grounds Cafe: Friday, September 19, 6:00-8:00 PM
Whether CW Smith is playing an acoustic solo show or if he is removing a virus from a laptop computer in his shop, one thing is certain: He approaches each task he does with genuine love. When you meet CW, you instantly realize what a great and friendly guy he is. He conducts himself in a manner that defies ego but he operates with a high sense of integrity.
Extremely proud of the life he has created for himself and his family, he makes no excuses for who he is. Whether he is in his shop or making music, he leaves no stone unturned in regards to detail and the values in which he lives his life. CW Smith is a rare bird and an incredible asset to the Des Moines community.
CW Smith Computer Services
CW Smith's Music Page CW Smith's Complete Catalog and Music Store
CW Smith's Reverb page