From gigs at CPA to winning a CMA, long career in music pays off for Eudora native
No doubt many Eudorans recognized one of their own on the Nov. 9 telecast of the Country Music Association Awards. What they may not remember is that some of them got their first peek at this Eudoran's talent on the stage of the old Eudora High School or the CPA Park gazebo.
Darran Smith, a 1978 Eudora High School graduate, won a CMA Award for producing the Single of the Year, "Live Like You Were Dying." A guitarist for Tim McGraw's band, Smith, along with Byron Gallimore and McGraw, produced the song. Smith was nominated twice last year.
But some of Smith's early gigs were right here in Eudora. He and pal Marty Henderson played guitar and performed "Joy to the World" -- the Three Dog Night version, not the Christmas carol -- for the school's talent show.
Later, Smith said he and Henderson played the CPA picnic.
"I used to love that thing," Smith said.
After graduation, Smith -- playing drums for a rock band -- said he and Henderson hit the road. Smith met a staff drummer in a studio in Nashville and ended up staying in the music mecca. He got a gig playing six nights a week i the house band at a Nashville club. After that gig ended, Smith moved on to another house gig.
Playing the Skull's Rainbow Club in Printer's Row, Smith said McGraw would come in and sing, usually in the style of Garth Brooks and Clint Black, who were at the height of their popularity.
Smith said McGraw asked him to play a gig in Delaware.
"We went up there and just had a blast," Smith said.
McGraw told Smith he had a record deal in the works.
"I'm like, 'Yeah, right,'" Smith said. "I didn't pay any attention."
Three months later, Smith said McGraw had the deal. And since then, Smith has been part of the original band, back when he and McGraw were "starving together."
"(It was) me and Tim in a band and in a trailer selling T-shirts and doing our own thing," Smith said.
The Eudora native even jokes that he's BF -- "Before Faith," referring to McGraw's wife, fellow vocalist Faith Hill.
Smith's CMA Award was for producing the song "Live Like You We're Dying," and producing a song is a several-pronged job. One of the first steps is pre-production.
McGraw or other producers will find songs for an album, but Smith said demo tapes could include female vocals or other elements that required change.
"My job is to break it down and make it a Tim McGraw song," he said.
In the recording studio, Smith said producers were the musical directors, coordinating arrangements, endings, beginnings and solos, as well as mixing the record.
The first time, Smith said, it was difficult to wear the hats of both producer and guitarist, because that meant he had to play his parts as well as listening to everyone else's.
"The second one, I had more of a handle on it," he said.
Smith keeps a healthy touring schedule, too, but tries to make it back to Eudora a couple times a year to see family.
"Living in Nashville, I don't get back very often, so I haven't been able to keep in contact."
However, Smith said Eudorans often kept track of him.
"Every now and them people will say, 'I saw you (on TV)' or call my mom," he said.
With a CMA Award in hand, a healthy musical career and a country home outside Nashville, Smith said he was able to reap the fruits of seeds sown in Eudora.
"The CMA Award was unbelievable," he said. "I've worked since before high school to do it, and it's pretty cool just to sit back now."