Underground Interview With LaVerne “Lee” Smikrud
This was a big thing for them because they didn’t have a lot of money. The accordion was a small one from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. In a few months it became inadequate for me so they bought him his first full size accordion. Lee took lessons from a lady until she couldn’t teach me anymore. At about age 10 Lee entered a talent contest in a local town and won $10.00. The officials then asked him to play for a street dance for a couple of hours for another $10.00. This really made his father aware of the potential in music. He hadn’t been in favor of the accordion idea from the start, but this changed his thinking dramatically.
Lee formed his own band and started playing all around the area doing polka and country music. A man named Ernie Reck who had a good polka band, a radio show and a tv show took Lee under his wing. He featured him on his radio shows and featured Lee's band on the tv show. The tv show covered a very large area which created a much larger audience and a demand for his music.
Lee formed a band with some friends. They called ourselves the Orange Blossom Special band, because they did good driving country music and had a good fiddle player. They mixed their music with a little bluegrass and polkas and waltzes. The band was a very popular band for a number of years because they could do a variety of music the older crowd enjoyed.
It was around this time Lee started writing more seriously. He had written a few songs while in the Navy, but, the desire to write came to him later. Around 1984 Lee recorded a cassette album of songs he had written. A few of those songs went over very well with the older crowd. He recorded 2 songs on a 45 rpm record at Bradley’s Barn in Nashville at the request of a man in Columbia, SC. Lee met one of his idols there in the studio. Mr. Hal Rugg, a steel guitar player who did a lot of the steel work for Loretta Lynn and others. After the session Lee met Beryl Ives when he came into the studio. What a thrill!
Eventually, the Orange Blossom Special band was hired to open shows for several major artists. But their greatest thrill was when they were the band for Mel Street. They already knew his material and did it very close to the recordings. So, he was greatly impressed when they did the show with him. They even qualified for the State Country Band Contest and came in 2nd I think.
Lee moved to Arkansas and got to play with some very good bluegrass musicians there. He had been messing around with the banjo and mandolin, but those musicians really got him to playing. He loved it. Lee formed another band there in Mountain View Arkansas and they played old time country and mountain style music. He also played music with the staff band at the Ozark Folk Center State Park at Mountain View. The Park is there to preserve the Ozark Mountain Heritage and way of life. It is a living and working park open from Springtime to October and has a 1200 seat auditorium where there are shows 7 nights a week. The local people provide the music and dancing. Mountain View Arkansas is known as the World Capitol of Folk Music. There is live music on the town square every night during the summer or when the weather is good.
He moved back to Wisconsin in 2001 because his wife was dying of cancer. He wanted her to be near her children. Lee still writes and plays music once in awhile. He is a strong traditionalist, but He enjoys different kinds of music. Lee has great respect and admiration for any musician who is a master. He has been so fortunate to work with a number of them and even got to work with his idol, Ernest Tubb. Lee said his life was complete after that!
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What Musical Genre Do You Feel Best Describes Your Music And How Would You Describe Your Sound?
My primary music genre is traditional Country with some Gospel and Bluegrass songs mixed in.
It is difficult for me to describe my sound. As I see it my sound is a blend of several country styles. I sing it the way I feel it and, occasionally, I will have some difficulty performing a song because of the emotion I feel. Some of my songs come from the heart and personal experiences.
How Did You Get Your Name? Is There A Story?
I've wondered about this many times. Laverne was the name of an uncle of mine who eventually changed his name to Larry. Lee was given to me by a friend while in the military. He said I didn't look like a Laverne, but, I looked more like a Lee. So, he started calling me Lee and introduced me as Lee to everyone. The name just stuck I guess. Smikrud is a Norwegian name. I don't know if it has any meaning in Norwegian, but I always suspected I'm descended from a bunch of horse thieves!
What Are or Have Been Your Musical Influences?
When I was quite young I can recall having all the lights out in the house on Friday or Saturday evenings. The only light that was on was the dial light on our old Philco tilt out radio. We would listen to WLS Barn Dance out of Chicago. The live performances of so many different acts influenced me greatly for such a young age. About 10 years of age I started driving my parents crazy to get me an accordion. They eventually did and in a coupe of years I was playing at dances and bars all over the area. About 15 years old I first heard Buck Owens and that turned me on to country music. I couldn't get enough of the guitar sound of Don Rich. After that my greatest influence was Ernest Tubb followed by many others. I love the simplicity of the Ernest Tubb recordings.
What Are You Working On Now? Any Future Collaborations We Can Look Forward To?
I do all my recording at home now. I can play all the necessary instruments, but I have a good friend, Danny Chroninger, who does the steel guitar work for me. I record for demo purposes only, because I don't have facilities or the money to do studio recordings. I did one professional album titled Schermerhorn Country where I wrote all the songs. Tim Crouch really encouraged me by telling me he thought I had some really good songs there and Tim has recorded with nearly everyone in Country Music. So, I continued writing and started recording at home. I have material for a couple more albums that I'm working on. I have another album ready for other singers to hear, hoping someone will want to record one of my songs. I'm getting too old, 72, to pursue a career. I enjoy sitting in once in awhile with good musicians, but full time is pretty much out of the question. Of course we usually did 4 hour jobs and that gets harder as you get older.
What Is Your Ultimate Goal In The Music Industry? What Is Your Plan Of Action?
My goal is to have one of my songs recorded by a established singer or band so that it gets heard by a lot of people. I know that I have some good material for the right person(s) to record. I've been told that by a friend who is a very successful songwriter. So if someone is looking for some country gospel or straight ahead country songs they should contact me.
What Is Your Favorite Track To Perform Live and Why?
My favorite track is "The Conversation". It is a recitation. When I started to write it after the first verse it was like the words were handed to me and I was the instrument used to put them on paper. I get very emotional when I perform it.
What Has Been The Biggest Challenge In Your Career Thus Far?
Getting my music to people who need to hear it. I strongly believe, based on what the musicians told me at the recording session, that this album needs to be heard.
What’s Your Typical Songwriting Process?
I get the subject idea and usually write the chorus part first. The melody comes along with the lyrics most of the time. After the chorus is done I start working on the verses. Sometimes they come fairly easily and other times it takes much longer. It took me about 7 years to write my first tribute to my idol. My second tribute to him took about 2 or 3 days working on and off.
How Has Social Media Influenced Your Career As An Artist?
It hasn't influenced me much at all. It is a vehicle to get my music out for folks to hear, but I can't control who chooses to listen to it.
What Are Some Tracks and Artists Currently On Your Playlist?
I don't have a play list except in my mind. As I said earlier, I like different kinds of music, so my list would include many people from Hank Williams to Jimmy Rodgers to Merle Haggard to Jimmy Dean, Lefty Frizzell, Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Mama's and Pappas, ABBA, Dixieland Jazz, Jackie Gleason Orchestra, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Cajun Music and on and on.
What Did You Do Before You Started Making Music?
I started making music before I did anything else except working at home. At 11 years old I had a newspaper route that was 7 miles long, 7 days a week all year around. I worked on a dairy farm after that and worked at a service station while in high school. It was at that time I was also doing the tv show which we recorded every 3rd Thursday; (recorded 3 1/2 hour shows each time).
Any Advice For Young People (Men or Women) That Want To Succeed In The Music World?
Keep your focus. Don't let failure discourage you, because, many successful people have suffered failure numerous times before succeeding. Remember that your talent is a gift and don't let it go to your head. No matter how good you are there is always someone better. Remain humble, but work hard to polish and sharpen your craft whatever it is. Always remember to treat others as you want to be treated, because you may meet some of the same people on your way down that you met on your way up!
What Would You Change In The Music Industry If You Were A Top Music Executive?
I would take control away from the executives in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Nashville and wherever else people were controlling what is played on radio stations. No matter where you go in the United States, with very few exceptions, you will hear the same songs by the same artists on any station you find on your radio. You'll hear the hype that was formerly on rock music stations only. It is time for stations to be controlled locally, or at least by small districts. It's simply ridiculous the way radio has been taken over by executives who could care less about local likes and social norms.
How Do You Feel About Originality?
I believe there is always a place for originality. There are numerous examples of originality in music. It's originality that opened the door for the way guitars are played nowadays. But, that applies to every instrument, even the human voice. New musicians, new singers with new approaches to playing old tunes, new tunes played the old way; it's the ability to do things differently, to look at things from a different angle that makes originality so fantastic.
Is There Anything Else We Should Know About You Or That You Would Like to Add?
I don't want to be a star. I have absolutely no desire to be famous. I simply write songs that express my feelings, emotions, thoughts and cares that are the same as most other people. Hopefully I am able to express myself in a slightly different way that will touch someone. Maybe it will make someone feel better, less lonely, more lonely, happier, sadder; any way I can touch someone, hopefully, for the better. I am real. My songs are real. Everyone doesn't like them, but I don't like everything any artist has recorded either. I just want people to hear my music that like simple music and they can make up their own mind.