There was a time in Jake Smith’s life when spring’s arrival marked another season on the baseball field. This spring, however, just so happens to coincide with his latest tour.
Circa the mid-1990s, right around the same time he was attending St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, Calif., on a baseball scholarship, Smith got his first guitar. It was a Fender acoustic he picked up at a pawn shop for about $150, and that acquisition essentially started him on the path to becoming the singer-songwriter-guitarist known as The White Buffalo.
“I’ve been primitive in my guitar playing,” Smith says. “As far as practicing guitar, I’ve always approached it just for songs. There’s not much noodling. [The guitar] is a vehicle for melody and voice, to guide them.
“I think I attack a guitar differently,” he adds. “I have my own style, which I think is partially from not taking lessons … [it’s] kind of an aggressive style. I think that came out of playing solo all the time — not necessarily having very intricate parts, but using my right hand in a way that will fill the entire space as a solo act. I approached it very dynamically so it gets very loud and aggressive, and then very quiet, and with the band I think it just accentuates that.”
As for songwriting, Smith says it’s “this endless, open thing. I [enjoy exploring] the darker side, which I think is so exciting. I like dark, evil, strange films. There are so many sides of life, and a lot of people don’t go into the shadows, but I think that’s where a lot of the grit is. I really try to have an open mind to whatever comes.”
Raised a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, Smith remains a fan of baseball, and he was game to put together a starting lineup of his songs that best represent who he is as a recording artist:
1: “If we’re thinking in baseball terms, maybe I’d start off with something like ‘Joey White,’ which is on my last album [Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways]. It’s a super-fast aggressive song. It comes at you pretty heavily lyrically. It’s a song where [the protagonist] Joey White goes off to war, and it’s his whole war experience wrapped up in about two and half minutes.”
2: “For number two, that’s somebody who can move the runner over, right (laughs)? Let’s go with ‘Oh Darlin’ What Have I Done,’ which is from the Prepare for Black & Blue album. It’s kind of moderately paced. I took it out of the set for a while, but then it got a placement on Sons of Anarchy, and it kinda gained some popularity again. … That’s really stripped-down and really simple, so that would be good for number two.”
3: “For number three: ‘The Pilot’ [from Once Upon a Time in the West]. We close a majority of the shows with ‘The Pilot.’ ”
4: “ ‘The Whistler’ [from Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways]. It’s a crazy sort-of murder song. It’s kind of brooding, but there’s power in the middle. It’s maybe the most feared song in my catalog (laughs), and that’s something you assimilate with the fourth hitter.”
5: “ ‘Damned,’ from Hogtied Revisited. It’s about unrequited love that’s still in the shadows; this guy is trying to get it, but it’s still unreachable. That song [in concert] is always one that feels good.”
6: “Let’s go with ‘Don’t You Want It’ [from Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways]. It’s kind of the feel-good moment of the last album. The number-six hitter could always be your sneaky guy. The main character reflects on what his life was, but at the same time, there’s a hope in that song in the idea that you can become born again or become new.”
7: “ ‘Love Song # 1’ [from The White Buffalo EP]. That’s a song I wrote for my wife. I had met her about two weeks before, then I wrote the song. I don’t even know if I write love songs how they’re supposed to be, but that seems to touch a lot of people. At every show, I get people saying that there’s wedding song — it’s kind of an underdog wedding song (laughs).”
8: “We got a DH in this lineup, or are we going National League (laughs)? How about ‘BB Guns and Dirtbikes’? That’s kind of a ballad; it’s off Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s a song about growing up in suburban Southern California and fighting with the neighborhood kids. It’s a very nostalgic song for me.”
9: “ ‘Wish It Was True,’ which is also off Once Upon a Time in the West. That’s another one that I think touches a lot of people. I think that’s one of my best songs.”
— By Chris M. Junior
The White Buffalo on tour (schedule subject to change):
* April 10: Top Hat — Missoula, Mont.
* April 11: The Depot — Salt Lake City, Utah
* April 12: Gothic Theatre — Englewood, Colo.
* April 14: Wooly’s — Des Moines, Iowa
* April 15: Triple Rock — Minneapolis
* April 16: Metro — Chicago
* April 18: Irving Plaza — New York
* April 19: The Stone Pony — Asbury Park, N.J.
* April 20: Paradise Rock Club — Boston
* April 22: Mr. Smalls Theatre — Pittsburgh
* April 23: Theatre of the Living Arts — Philadelphia
* April 24: Black Cat — Washington, D.C.
* May 3: Warehouse Live — Houston
* May 5: Mohawk — Austin, Texas
* May 6: Gas Monkey — Dallas
* May 8: Crescent Ballroom — Phoenix
* May 9: Henry Fonda Theatre — Los Angeles
Photo by Myriam Santos