Smith cel­e­brat­ing ‘35 Years With Friends’ — and lov­ing it

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - BOOKS - By Jim Harrington

Michael W. Smith has posted some eye-pop­ping stats over the years. His ac­com­plish­ments in­clude re­leas­ing 30-plus top 10 al­bums — more than half of which went to No. 1 on the Chris­tian mu­sic charts. He has also tri­umphed as a cross­over act on the pop charts dur­ing a solo ca­reer that ex­tends back to the early ’80s. I re­cently spoke with Smith, who is cur­rently on his “35 Years of Friends” tour.

Q: Can you be­lieve it’s been 35 years since your first Friends tour in 1985?

A: It’s kind of crazy. I wake up ev­ery day and pinch my­self. I’m still do­ing it. And I’m lov­ing it. I am hav­ing a blast.

Q: What’s the set list look like for this tour?

A: We go all the way back to Record 1. We go back to (the 1992 al­bum) “Change Your World.” I haven’t done “Go West Young Man” (1990) in a long time, so I am do­ing that one. Obviously, “Place in this World” (1990). I love the “Change Your World” med­ley, which ends with “Cross of Gold.”

Q: Those are some good songs.

A: Re­ally my fa­vorite part of the night is when we do this lit­tle acous­tic set. We kind of pull every­body up­front and we re­ally go down mem­ory lane. We go back play­ing things like “This Is Your Time” (1999) and “Miss­ing Per­son” (1998) — which is one of my fa­vorite songs I’ve ever writ­ten.

I sing a lot, man — for 2 1⁄2 hours. I didn’t know if I was go­ing to make it through the fall tour. It’s just a lot of singing when you’re singing 40 some songs ev­ery night. And we obviously make a turn in the sec­ond half and kind of take it ver­ti­cal — a lot of wor­ship time. It’s a long night. But I think peo­ple love it.

Q: You recorded your first al­bum, “Michael W. Smith Pro­ject,” in 1982. Look­ing back, did you ever dream you’d still be do­ing this nearly 40 years later?

A: I’m not re­ally sure that I saw that back then. I mean, I was con­fi­dent that this is what God wanted me to do with my life, in terms of a vo­ca­tion.

Q: Both you and Amy Grant were hon­ored by ASCAP for be­ing “cor­ner­stones of Chris­tian mu­sic.” How does it feel to be rec­og­nized as such an in­flu­en­tial artist in the genre?

A: I’m grate­ful, first and fore­most. I’m glad I could con­trib­ute with what I did. But I think the only time I ever dis­agree with some of that is that I’m not re­ally a pioneer. There were re­ally pi­o­neers be­fore me — peo­ple like Larry Nor­man, Randy Stone­hill, the whole Je­sus move­ment that came out of Cal­vary Chapel in Cal­i­for­nia. Those peo­ple were paving the way in the late ’60s and es­pe­cially early ’70s. Those artists were the ones who in­spired me to do what I do.

Q: But you and Amy did bring a new kind of sound to the genre.

A: Amy and I kind just had this pop thing that we were do­ing. We had a lot of ra­dio play. But we cer­tainly found out pretty quick that mil­lions were embracing it. It was a great ride, man. Those ’80s and ’90s are times I’ll never for­get.

Q: So many of your songs deal with redemption. What draws you to that theme?

A: Well, I’ve got an ex­tra­or­di­nary redemption story, hon­estly. I mean, I should have died. I al­most died of a drug over­dose. I was reck­less. I made a lot of bad choices. And it all came to an end in 1979. My life just com­pletely changed, af­ter a ner­vous break­down and just the grace of God, you know?

I know, for sure, that those songs have re­ally changed peo­ple’s lives. Peo­ple who were sui­ci­dal and heard one of my songs and pull off to the side of the road and just had an epiphany — had just a mas­sive en­counter with God.

Those sto­ries never get old, I can tell you that.

DAVID T. FOS­TER III/CHAR­LOTTE OB­SERVER

Michael W. Smith per­forms at the fu­neral of the Rev. Billy Graham ear­lier this month in Char­lotte, North Carolina.

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