Smith celebrating ‘35 Years With Friends’ — and loving it
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.
Michael W. Smith performs at the funeral of the Rev. Billy Graham earlier this month in Charlotte, North Carolina.