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Smothered in History: Joe Smothers returns to Wilmington at Ted’s Fun on the River

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COMING HOME: Joe Smothers comes back to Wilmington playing songs off ‘These Things I Know.’ Courtesy photo

Heart-zinging lyrics and dance-in-your-seat melodies will be performed at Ted’s Fun on the River this Friday evening by the still-gorgeous Joe Smothers, a former member of Doc Watson’s Frosty Morn band.

Playing original compositions from his CD, “These Things I Know,” and popular covers, Smothers looks forward to his return engagement in Wilmington. When he booked Ted’s, owner Kelly Jewell laughed with him over playing the same gigs some 40 years ago. During the early ‘70s, Smothers toured with Doc Watson’s Frosty Morn band and called that period the opportunity of a lifetime.

“Doc gave off nothing but positive energy,” Somthers says. “He knew science and geography and was a world-class musician. One night the band was camping at the Big Sur in Santa Cruz, and Doc played old English ballads for over two hours. We cooked food over the campfire, and it was a magical night.”

After Watson’s beloved son Merle died in a tractor accident in 1985, Smothers played every MerleFest—26 to date. When he completes his performance at Ted’s, he will travel to Wilkesboro for the 27th MerleFest, a celebration of traditional-plus music (folk, rock, storytelling and bluegrass) that draws some 79,000 tourists and is noted as the third largest tourist attraction in North Carolina.

Smothers introduction to Watson goes back to his teen years when his mom, Betty, purchased a Stella guitar for him at the local pawn shop. His dad, J.M., called him to the TV to hear the blind guitar player, not knowing that his own son would one day play along his side. In college at Appalachian State, Smothers’ band, Fried Chicken and Watermelon, opened a show for Doc Watson and the two musicians formed a bond. Years of touring and recording more than a dozen albums together forged a deep respect between the two men. Smothers sang at Doc Watson’s funeral and wrote the song “Doc and Merle” (“There is no word to describe the depth of sorrow,” and “Tell him Doc and Merle have gone back home.”).

After his stint with Frosty Morn, Smothers paired with Jack Lawrence for a more relaxed period of folk music from 1978 through 1983. They recorded a CD Smothers/Lawrence (“Swingtime Gal,” “This Old Guitar of Mine,” and “Wrong So Long,” which was featured on Doc Watson’s Grammy Award winner “On Praying Ground”). Smothers called his partner, Lawrence, a “flat-picking powerhouse.”

But Smothers has a greater love than music, and that is his love for family, consisting of his wife Marghy —“my muse of 40 years and inspiration for my love of songs”—and their son and daughter. He stopped touring to help raise his children, took a day job, and played with a local band.

Now, the kids are grown, and Smothers is back on the road with Marghy at his side and fresh music for the picking. Thanks to the encouragement of a younger gifted guitar player Shaun Hopper (“Paper Orchid”), Smothers met “genius” Matt Glisson, who actually moved into his household to help polish “These Things I Know.”

This album includes “Three Buglers,” which won first place at The Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. The song tells of a union captain who’d put his young soldiers to bed only to hear moans coming from beyond their campsite. After a brief search, he found a wounded boy half-buried in the mud. Not knowing if he was friend or foe, he carried him to the campfire’s edge. As he bathed the dying boy’s face, he recognized his only son, who’d travelled south to learn music and been caught up in the Confederate campaign.  In his hand were the scribbled notes to “Taps.” And the song ends with the funeral dirge, “The commander wouldn’t allow a band—only one man,” the bugler playing “Taps.”

The purity and strength of Smothers’ music is described well by Dean Poling of The Valdosta Daily Times as the “eternal youth of an old soul…Smothers translates the same spirit which had made him a mainstay for nearly 25 years on Valdosta’s live music scene into this recording (‘These Things I Know’).”



Joe Smothers

Ted’s Fun on the River
2 Castle Street April 18th, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $8

Written in honor of Julian Walker, whose own love for family helps maintain the excellent quality of entertainment and hospitality at Ted’s.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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