There was the time a chance meeting at a business in Nashville led to Steve jamming with country music legend Charlie Daniels. Or the story about how a 12-year-old boy traded away his dirt bike to get his very first banjo, which Steve learned to play while listening to the radio in his father’s car. Since those days, Steve has gone on to open for Darryl Worley, Lee Brice, David Nail, David Allen Coe, Jo Dee Messina and the Oak Ridge Boys just to name a few.
His song “Wishing Well” spent three weeks at #1 on the Indie Charts while another original charted #12 in Australia. And to think it all started during a square dance at a building owned by Smith’s grandfather.
“When I heard the live music, something stirred deep inside me. I had to get up and crack my heels like the other folks that we’re dancing. I was having one of the greatest moments of my life when I began to watch the banjo player’s fingers. I was simply amazed by what I saw,” says Smith.
It wasn’t long before Steve had a banjo in his own hands. He was able to borrow one from a family friend and taught himself to play by listening to the radio in his dad’s car. Steve remembers the day the family friend came back to collect the banjo and the realization that Steve’s family couldn’t afford to purchase it.
“I swallowed real hard because it was a lot of money. I think my dad swallowed harder than me because he was just happy I didn’t break the thing while I had it,” he laughs and recounts.
Things worked out in Steve’s favor. While the banjo was worth over eight-hundred dollars, the family friend saw how much the banjo meant to Steve and agreed to trade it to him for a three-hundred-dollar dirt bike.
“Words can’t describe the joy I felt that day. I still have that very banjo and it was played when I won a banjo picking contest in Friendsville, Maryland in 2006.”
Little did Steve know, music was about to open up a lot of doors. He was invited by Bluegrass Queen Rhonda Vincent to play on her 2007 Bluegrass Cruise to the Bahamas. He also had an unexpected jam session with legendary musician Charlie Daniels.
“I was working in Nashville in 1989 and I strolled into a country tack shop that was selling hats and boots, and stuff. It was right at closing time and I walked through the door and saw a fella who looked a lot like Charlie Daniels,” Steve remembers.
It ends up the man in the store was the world-famous musician. He struck up a conversation with Steve and, upon learning Steve was a banjo picker, asked him to retrieve his instrument and play right there in the store.
Steve’s love and passion for the banjo extend beyond playing the instrument; he also loves building them. In 2010 he received the highest possible compliment concerning his banjo building when another legendary artist, Earl Scruggs, picked one of Steve’s banjos at a gathering in South Carolina.
“Earl picked it and said that he had signed a lot of banjo heads in his day but he wanted people to know that he signed that one and had played it himself. So he took the back off and signed it on the inside and signed the wood rim on the inside and the head.”
Steve is also a member of the legendary Wheeling Jamboree, which is the second longest running country music broadcast in the United States (Grand Ole Opry is the longest). What does it mean to Steve?
“I think it is a very huge honor being inducted into the Jamboree because of what they stand for and what they have done. To know that legends have passed through the Wheeling Jamboree the same as they have the Opry, it kind of gives me a sense of accomplishment.”
In early 2015, Steve Smith became one of the first artists to be signed to Mon Hill Records, an independent label created as part of the Music Industry Program at West Virginia University but that came to an end when Steve’s music career had to be put on hold in 2016 due to an internal fungal infection, that almost claimed his life. After battling that illness, he was determined more than ever for his music to reach people.
In 2017, Steve had the opportunity to play with the Wheeling Jamboree at the Capitol Theater in Wheeling, WV and he had this to say, “This is why I feel God made me. You know I may never be famous and the good Lord knows I am far from rich. You may even ask why do you do what you’re doing? And that my friend is a Great question!!! This is not for an ego trip, it is not ever about leaving my mark in this business like the other greats have done Paisley/Jones/Haggard and Cast to name a few, however, the very spot I am standing on is the same that those people stood and sang their heart out.
The reason I do this is so when my daughter’s come back to the merch table after the show and stand next to me, one on each side and I ask them, What are ya gals doing? Their reply, “We want people to know that you are our Dad! I have had people tell me that it would be a sin if I didn’t use the talent God gave me. I sing to see my wife’s smile and last but not least but to share songs that I wrote with you, that can take you to a place in time, in a moment, maybe a feeling or the thought hey, that happened to me. You see these crazy times we live in can be hectic and I feel the reason God made me is to simply bring a smile to your face and possibly help you forget about life for just a little while.
Many thanks for my many friends who have believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.”
October 2017 Smith never saw the next step in his career coming. Smith purchased a new microphone for this home studio without telling his wife- KT (Katie). Her reaction to this was, “it was time to put those to work.” Smith had no idea the work she was meaning would be a radio show. It wasn’t long after that mic purchase, the Smith’s had their own 2 hr. morning radio show on WWOV 101.1FM Radio Home of the Wheeling Jamboree.
Cracking jokes, playing music and chatting with other musicians/artist on the air the Husband & Wife Duo banter back and forth made you laugh and shake your head all at the sometime. However, time management was hard once the summer schedule hit with Steve’s traveling. In April 2018 the Smith’s had to stop their daily show but they promised their listeners they would be back in the fall of 2018.
That same year, Steve was featured in a book titled, Songwriting in Contemporary West Virginia: Profiles and Reflections, written by Travis Stimeling, a musicologist at West Virginia University. Stimeling also included Steve in a recent album, Long Time on This Mountain: The Songs of Shirley Stewart Burns.
Over time the radio show turned into a podcast and after years of following her husband around on tour, KT had a mic put in her hand one day on stage beside Steve. Since then, the pair have hosted a variety of events including the pre-show at the legendary Wheeling Jamboree, the Maryland State Banjo, Fiddle, and Mandolin Championships, and many others.
Anytime spent with Steve will quickly tell you that he is a product of the state which he grew up in. Steve is proud to represent the great state of West Virginia and he was known for wearing the trademark WV hat at every show. That pride of his home state carried over into a professional level as Steve is the official Banjo Instructor at WVU through their bluegrass program, as well as teaching private lessons out of his home studio, but the hat has changed.
In 2020 Steve and KT were at an event and learned about an organization called Legacies Alive that supports Gold Star Families. After meeting the volunteers and families, Steve took off his WV hat and put on a Legacies Alive hat to raise awareness for Gold Star Families. His original song, “The Brave” has become one that is shared with all Gold Star Families through Legacies Alive.
April 2023 Steve’s 4th CD titled, Who I Am was released and followed by 3 nominations to the Josie Music Awards. With over 59,000 submissions to the awards show, Steve is honored to have the nominations.
In October Steve will travel to Nashville for the awards ceremony where he is nominated for Male Country Artist, Modern Country Song of the Year (Beautiful Sin) and Country Album of the Year.