Breaking into the music business hasn't been a walk in the park for singer-songwriter Todd Snider. But as he relates stories of his musical adventures, it soon becomes clear that the Nashville-based song man has thrown a pretty good roll of the dice.
When he first started touring six years ago, Snider says, he had his doubts. "You think everyone's trying to attack you," he says. "But the last two or three years I started to realize, 'God, [I'm] so lucky."
Snider may have played the usual string of low-paying gigs through the years, but his luck never left him. Snider found himself in Austin in the late '80s surrounded by the best story-songwriters in the business. Later in Memphis, he fell in with producer-songwriter Keith Sykes who improved Todd's guitar skills, introduced him to John Prine and eventually helped him get signed to Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville label. And now, Snider finds himself on Prine's Oh Boy label with a solid career. He opens shows frequently for Prine in the States and in Europe and will do so Saturday, Sept. 9, at the Carpenter Center.
Snider was not always musically oriented but when the bug bit, it bit hard. He drifted from home at 16 before heading to San Francisco and junior college. Instead of school, however, Snider "met some kids going to a different party" and he dumped academics in favor of the harmonica. His brother soon urged him to move to Austin, where on his first night Snider saw Stevie Ray Vaughan, Delbert McClinton and Jerry Jeff Walker perform. Walker's way with a story captured Todd's attention and he began learning guitar and conjuring folk-singing dreams. Soon, Snider was playing little gigs and having a blast scraping by.
"I've always lived in little tiny apartments [on] macaroni and cheese," he says. "But I like macaroni and cheese and little tiny apartments."
Again, it was his brother who encouraged him to move to Memphis about four years later. There, Snider met Sykes. The producer introduced him to Prine who took an interest in the young songwriter's emerging musical vignettes.
By the early '90s, Snider had a record deal and was touring hard. With his folk-singer-in-a-rock-band approach to music, he cut three major-label CDs with his group. His label eventually dropped him, but Prine picked him up. His first release on Oh Boy Records, "Happy To Be Here," is a folky effort full of sentiments worthy of the CD's title. Avoiding na‹ve sensibilities, Snider crafts songs that look at life's ups and downs with a measure of cheer. It's a winning take that deserves a wide audience.
"I've done my share of whining songs but at the end of the day, I try to do songs that would be more encouraging," Snider says. " Woody Guthrie to me seemed to be that way."
At 33, Snider knows he's been blessed and these days there's not much to cry about. "A lot of people are playing 'A' minor [chords] all night long," he says. "I'm more of a major-chord singer."
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