The Kenny and Amanda Smith Band are modern day troubadours who like to mix old time rhythms with contemporary themes such as they did with their outstanding ballad “Mary Had A Little Boy” from their most recent CD Tell Someone.
The husband and wife team of Kenny and Amanda who front the band with their vocals and Kenny’s guitar licks blend bluegrass, southern gospel and country songs. While the traditional venue for the band has been music festivals during the summer months, smaller clubs during the winter and opening for acts like country legend George Jones, they have been experiencing rapid growth in their fan base from a surprising source. As the band enters, its sixth year satellite radio is introducing their music to a generation of fans who are discovering bluegrass for the first time.
Kenny says, “We have a really high standard as far as the sound quality in our recordings (is concerned). We have been really lucky to know some good engineers. Glenn Taber out of Charlotte North Carolina is really gifted at what he does. We like working with him. He is innovative and always comes up with new ways to capture what we do.” He makes the point that with satellite radio, you have to come up with a quality mix or the music program directors are not going to play your music.
To capture what Kenny likes to refer to as ?a pure sound’ they utilize a much stripped down recording studio that places more emphasis on capturing an acoustic live sound than it does on electronic wizardry.
“Amanda and I listen to a lot of fifties and sixties country (songs) that are more simple and basic. They had good songs and unique voices. The people were all original and I guess that is what we like about that era,” says Kenny before adding, “I think that still is true with bluegrass. It is one of the music forms that are still governed by the artists that it is not controlled by the record companies.”
It would seem fitting that a bluegrass band would start to take shape at a bluegrass music festival but it is not exactly where one might picture you meeting your future spouse. Amanda recalls their first meeting, “Mom, dad and I went to a concert in Milton West Virginia because the Lonesome River Band was playing. I was expecting Tim Austin their other guitar player to walk out on stage but Kenny did and I really liked his playing. I wanted to go up and meet him after the show was over and I was hoping he didn’t have a girlfriend but of course, I didn’t want to come out and ask him. I just handed him my cassette tape with my phone number in it. I figured that was a more tactful way to give him my number without just asking him to call. It worked and he called me about a month later.”
Perhaps we should ask Kenny how he remembers things unfolding, “Amanda and I met at a Lonesome River Band concert (so far you are on the same page). I remember seeing Amanda earlier in the day and thinking there is a good looking gal and I really want to meet her!” Kenny however figured that she probably did not like bluegrass music and her parents dragged her to the festival (wrong). In fact, Amanda suggests it may have been more at her urging that the family attended the festival.
What happened next Kenny? “She walked up after the concert, handed me a cassette tape and said my number is in there. She told me to give her a call sometime and tell her what I think about the music (hmmm),” Kenny recalls. He phoned, discovered she was four hours away, but agreed to go out on a date anyway.
Eventually they married so he must have taken her out to a big fancy restaurant or won many prizes for her at the local fair, right. Not quite and true romanticists will be pleased to learn, “We got back to her mom and dad’s house (after the date) and while we were sitting on the couch she asked, ?Do you want to pick?’ I thought this was great and we spent the next two or three hours playing the guitar (and singing). It was a dream come true.” While it is true they have lived happily ever after our story is not over yet so keep reading.
One of the keys to the Smiths enjoying a good marriage and helps them keep their careers in the proper focus is their faith in God. Amanda says, “Not everything (in life) is always perfect. There are always hard times and discouragement. It is nice to have somebody who wants to pray about it and it means a lot to be on the same page with everything. Our (faith) really comes into play for the decisions we make for the band. We share the same thoughts and beliefs. We can lean on the Lord to find our direction.”
“It is nice to have somebody who wants to pray about it and it means a lot to be on the same page with everything. The decisions that we make for the band that (faith) really comes into play. We share the same thoughts and beliefs and can lean on the Lord to find our direction,” says Amanda.
There have been many times when the couple has needed the Lord’s strength to see them through difficult days. Two weeks prior to the recording of Tell Someone Kenny’s father was involved in a fatal tractor accident. He says they felt so strongly about recording their first gospel album that they went ahead with the project. “I think at times like that you are closer to the Lord and drawing from that strength than any other time of your life. I think the songs that we chose really spoke to my heart,” he says.
As every musician or singer knows the music, industry can often lead to a frugal lifestyle. The Kenny and Amanda Smith Band have also known those lean years. “That is where faith becomes a big part of our lives and so it becomes a daily walk for Amanda and me,” says Kenny.
Amanda says, “This gospel album meant a whole lot because those songs go way back to my childhood. I have been singing gospel music ever since I was about three years old with my mom’s old record player and (later) in church with my guitar.”
Concerning their careers and their marriage Amanda says, “It is definitely a dream come true and to have the bonus of finding somebody that is a partner in life that shares the same dream and the same faith all wrapped in one seems almost too good to be true. We’re pretty fortunate.”
Music lovers attending a Kenny and Amanda Smith Band concert can expect to hear hard driving bluegrass mixed in with tunes that are more traditional and some southern gospel songs. Kenny says, “We might go to something really contemporary such as “Pacific Time”. It is stripped down to guitar, bass and Amanda’s vocals. She is singing about a west coast/east coast long distance relationship. (Next) we might go to a quick instrumental or a claw hammer banjo song that is rooted in an old time feel. Amanda’s voice fits hard driving bluegrass but it also fits ballads and slower gospel (songs).”
Just like some of the people whose music they enjoy, Ernest Tubb, Tammy Wynette and Buck Owens Kenny and Amanda Smith are carving out their own niche in the annals of bluegrass and country music.
Copyright © 2007 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague. Joe Montague is an internationally published freelance journalist / photographer.