CW Smith



From the time I could walk, say the folks closest to me, I’ve been singing. I’d entertain the family at picnics from the age of three. My cousin Leanne and I formed our first “band” -- The Flowerbuds --- when I was seven. I wrote my first song when I was ten, performed with the Indianola High School swing choir when I was eleven, and had choral and non-singing roles with the Des Moines Metro Opera when I was twelve and thirteen.

My first formal music lessons were on piano and trombone when I was 10 years old, but I never really stuck with either of them: I never had the lung power for trombone or the patience for piano. I taught myself guitar when I was 15, bass when I was 18, and drums when I was 19. During my time working at Trifecta Studio, I learned mandolin and harmonica, and got much better at the drums. I’ve since taken up baritone guitar, upright bass, ukuleles (soprano, tenor and baritone), banjo, bajo sexto and sitar. Piano still spooks me for some reason, though.

I joke that I have a musical attention deficit, and just can’t manage to stick with one instrument. But it was actually a valuable skill in the studio: if a client needed a particular instrument on a recording, it was just about as easy for me to learn a part as to go through my list of instrumentalists’ phone numbers. Usually in the time it took just to get a response on the phone, I could learn a part and we could finish the recording. In my current recordings and with my current bands, I bounce back and forth between guitar, bass, mandolin and drums to fill whatever void we hear in the arrangement.

My first “real” band was put together after a girl asked me to prom my junior year, 1986. I put together two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer and a sound engineer from friends I had in two other bands. The high school band director loaned us the band room for rehearsal space and even offered to play keyboards. “For Sherry” was recorded in three takes (two of which were complete) on the morning before prom, and I presented it to Sherry that evening. (The original 1986 recording of “For Sherry” can be heard on my Sound+Video page.)

After some retooling, I put together a more permanent band called Sound System, and we played and recorded together in different lineups from 1986 to 1989. My acoustic duo project, the audubon society, followed: Rob Straughn and I have performed, composed and recorded together since 1988. We now call ourselves Smith & Straughn.

In 1993, my friends James Haddox, Dave Graham, Tom Jirkovsky and I assembled Mystic East, the first of my bands to make a foray into the Des Moines club scene. We played several times at Safari Club and other Drake University area venues before we disbanded in late 1994.

From 2009 to 2012 I was one of the core members of dUUdes, the house band at the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines. Always the utility man, I moved around playing guitar, bass, drums, mandolin, banjo, percussion and vocal as was necessary for any given song. It was a great way to bring my love of music together with the principles I try to live by.

My solo recording career began with the breakup of Sound System in 1989, and continues to this day. I’m working and playing now with a band (The Grape Ape Trust) and three duet projects (TMI, The Word Green and Smith & Straughn) and feeling more motivated now than ever before to get my my music recorded and performed out in front of an audience.

I’ve performed, either solo or with one or more of my bands, at the following venues:

  1. Billy Joe’s Lounge (West Des Moines)

  2. Bourbon Street (Des Moines)

  3. The Brass Rail (Pleasantville)

  4. Café Paradiso (Fairfield)

  5. Caffé A’Roma (Des Moines)

  6. Carlisle Christian Church

  7. Carlisle Pumpkin Fest

  8. Chocolaterie Stam (Ingersoll Avenue, Des Moines)

  9. Coda Lounge (Renaissance Savery Hotel, Des Moines)

  10. Cumming Christian Church

  11. Demicon 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 (Des Moines)

  12. Des Moines Downtown Farmer’s Market

  13. Des Moines Social Club

  14. First Unitarian Church of Des Moines

  15. House of Bricks (Des Moines)

  16. Hy-Vee Hall (Des Moines)

  17. Indianola High School

  18. Indianola Methodist Church

  19. Indianola VFW Hall

  20. Java Joe’s 4th Street Theatre (Des Moines)

  21. Lekberg Hall (Indianola)

  22. Mars Café (Des Moines)

  23. People’s On Court (Des Moines)

  24. Pleasantville United Methodist Church

  25. Pote Theatre (Indianola)

  26. Ritual Café (Des Moines)

  27. Safari Club (Des Moines)

  28. Shadle Memorial Park (Pleasantville)

  29. Simpson College Student Union

  30. Smith Chapel (Indianola)

  31. Smokey Row (Pleasantville)

  32. Smokey Row (Des Moines)

  33. Smouse Opportunity School (Des Moines)

  34. Summerset Winery (Indianola)

  35. Supreme Court Day (Drake University, Des Moines)

  36. Vaudeville Mews (Des Moines)

  37. Barnes & Noble Café (West Des Moines)


guitar, 12-string guitar, bass guitar, baritone guitar, alto guitar, banjo, upright bass, mandolin, bajo sexto, soprano ukulele, tenor ukulele, baritone ukulele, autoharp, cuatro, mountain dulcimer, washtub bass, sitar

drum kit, lap snare, cajon, congas, djembe, bongos, maracas, cabasa, claves, tambourine, washboard, other hand percussion

harmonica, recorder, trombone

I can tune pianos, and can play a few simple chords, but I don’t really profess to play keys. I keep a couple electronic keyboards in my basement studio for composition and recording purposes.

baritone-bass, with falsetto reaching into tenor and alto ranges

Des Moines, Iowa

The Beatles, Steely Dan, Big Star, Crowded House, Natalie Merchant, Television, The Cars, Glenn Miller, Billie Holiday, Aimee Mann, T. Rex, Patsy Cline, Pete Seeger, Beth Orton, Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Roy Orbison, REM


Mostly harmless


Blonde and Sweet

Come On Over EP

Livin’ Large

A Function of Time

Under the Radar EP

Renaissance Man

A Colder Day EP

South of Dakota

Early Works 4CD box

    I-80 Westbound

    Nothing Flashy

    Blue Street (excerpts)

    All That Matters

    “10 February” and 4 July

    Peace of My Mind (excerpts)

    CW Smith VII

    Psychological Furniture

    Escape from Pennsylvania

    Long Island Boy (excerpts)

    unreleased / bonus tracks