“What Happened” from the album Hard Headed Fool
Georgia-based songwriter Corey Smith’s quick rise to regional acclaim came as a surprise — most of all to him. “I never planned on doing this,” says the singer/guitarist, who calls the small town of Jefferson home. “Hell, my wife married a high-school teacher. When I graduated from the University of Georgia, that was my plan. I had the teaching-then-retirement plan. This thing kinda happened and just blew me away.”
Smith says the struggle between what real life used to be and this fast fame has been difficult and even confusing. It’s a topic he tackles on the song “I’m No Hank Williams,” a track off his new album Hard Headed Fool.
“Sometimes I have to ask myself whether it’s a blessing or a curse,” he says. “I think there is that bit of a struggle there, especially being in this business. It’s constant temptation — whether it’s drinking, or drugs, or girls or whatever. All this temptation is right there, so it’s easy for me to ask myself whether it’s a good thing or not. With this album, because of that internal struggle, I wanted to convey a positive message over all. I hope that I did.”
Smith developed an easy-going style over several albums. He graduated from UGA in 2001 and shortly thereafter released his debut album Undertones, followed by 2005’s The Good Life. It’s decidedly Southern, straddling genres like country, acoustic-rock, and straightforward singer/songwriter fare.
His breakthrough hit “Twenty-One,” a reminiscence of carefree college life, epitomizes Smith’s core appeal — that of the everyman stumbling too fast through life, sometimes surprised by where he is and usually nostalgic for where he’s been.
“So many of my songs, especially my earlier ones, were about my time in Athens and kind of nostalgic for that time,” says Smith. “I wrote them when I’d just graduated and was starting to teach, having a normal nine-to-five gig, so I thought about my time in college. Essentially, I think it’s those nostalgic drinking anthems that appeal to the core fan base.”
Smith got his start performing in Athens several years ago, with gigs at the downtown venue Tasty World and a regular spot at the Wild Wing Café. He’s since outgrown the small venue and regularly sells out Athens’ Georgia Theatre or Chapel Hill’s Cat’s Cradle well in advance.
These days he’s touring backed by the Atlanta-based crew of drummer Marcus Petruska (of the Zac Brown Band) and upright bassist Rob Henson (of Telegram).
Despite the pleasure he gets from performing in front of large and enthusiastic crowds, Smith hopes to be able to return to the smaller, more intimate gigs.
“I miss that coffee-house, sit-down-and-talk-about-the-songs thing,” he says. “One challenge is the momentum we’re building in new markets. We need to keep that going.”
Charleston gets to see Smith fulfilling that hope. In addition to this week’s Music Farm show, he’ll deliver an in-store performance at Monster Movies & Music (946 Orleans Road,  571-4657) on Fri. Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. Copies of Hard Headed Fool with be on sale for $9.99. Fans can get autographs and register to win tickets to the Music Farm show as well.