Born in 1937 into a large family in the “Featherbed” section near South Colton, on the northern outskirts of the Adirondack Park, Bill Smith is a teller of tales, a singer of songs and a maker of traditional Adirondack pack baskets. He learned each of these trades first at home from his parents, his father’s lumberjack friends, and the assorted other characters who would come through the Smith house and the nearby woods in Bill’s childhood. The household was without electricity until 1954.
Meet the Masters Radio Documentary:
Since 1993, TAUNY has been recognizing individuals, families and community groups with North Country Heritage Awards their significant contributions to our living local cultural heritage. The major criteria include evidence of traditionality, mastery, and creativity; a commitment to the art form over time; and a commitment to the community and to the teaching of others.
During 1999-2000, folklorist Varick Chittenden and audio producer Lamar Bliss researched, wrote and produced a series of 19 half-hour documentary features on award recipients for broadcast on
North Country Public Radio.
The following is the program about Bill Smith from that series.
Bill Smith, who’s also well known as a traditional Adirondack ash splint basket maker and storyteller, learned old songs as a boy from his mother and from the radio. Here he talks about his early life on the Featherbed section on the northwestern foothills of the Adirondacks, his early musical influences, getting his first guitar as a boy, how itinerant local men shaped his love of stories and storytelling, his career as a performer of old songs and stories in the last 30 years, writing his own songs, and planning for a show— for local audiences and for outsiders.
His songs here include “The Frozen Logger,” “Go Tell Aunt Nabby,” and “The Old Round Oak Stove,” his own composition.
Bill has been a trapper and fur buyer, a pulpwood cutter, and hunting and fishing guide. For several years, he taught outdoor education in area public schools and colleges.
As the youngest of ten children, all of his brothers had moved out of the house by
the time Bill’s first musical instrument arrived by mail--a guitar from the
“Sears & Roebuck Company.” Bill was inspired to play from hearing Dick
Law, an accomplished musician, and also by his mother who played pump organ and
taught him many songs.
With his father often gone for weeks at a time working in the woods, Bill and his mother would spend many lonely nights playing and singing together; country songs and sentimental love pieces were among their favorites. Bill well remembers that New Years Day in 1953 when he and his mother heard on their car radio that Hank Williams, their musical hero, had died; they both cried.
Bill Smith is widely known throughout the Adirondacks and beyond as a master of various traditional arts of the region. He performs for a variety of audiences with a wide repertoire of stories and songs about local life. He has been written about in numerous articles and books and has produced a series of recordings of his stories and songs for Front Hall Records and his own label, Featherbed Productions.
For more information, email Bill Smith: email@example.com