Joanna Smith Is ‘Gettin” Her Shot at Country Music Fame
Newcomer Joanna Smith is realizing her childhood dream of being a “professional country singer,” by hitting the airwaves with her debut single, ‘Gettin’ Married,’ a song she co-wrote with hit tunesmiths Jeffrey Steele and Tom Hambridge. It’s the story of a woman who is the lone holdout while all of her friends are taking a trip down the aisle.
Having grown up on a farm in the small Georgia town of Crestview, Unincorporated, Joanna knew at a very young age that she wanted to sing country music. After a stop at Auburn University for a year, she finally made the move to Music City to pursue her dream. Even though she didn’t receive her diploma from Auburn, she definitely “went to college” — playing a regular gig at the famed Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in downtown Nashville for four years. Joanna, whose talent and demeanor are being compared to the legendary Dolly Parton, says, “It was the school of hard knocks, and I got my degree!” She should earn her Masters degree by the time she hits stores with her debut album early next year.
The Boot recently sat down with Joanna at her record label in Nashville to talk about her single, ‘Gettin’ Married,’ and what her own dream wedding would entail. The 25-year-old also reveals what it was like to grow up on a farm, the role the Judds have played in her career and singing in pageants as a little girl.
Tell us the thoughts that ran through your head when you finally signed that record contract.
It’s a daily thing that if I think hard enough about it, I get choked up and tear up and have myself a moment every day these days. I mean, my dreams are coming true.
Your debut single, ‘Gettin’ Married,’ is quite hysterical. How did you come up with the song?
I was discussing it with Jeffrey Steele — he’s the co-writer along with Tom Hambridge — and we were discussing when we were going to get together. He kept asking me, “How about this Friday?” I’d say, “Uh, I can’t. I have a wedding to go to.” “How about next Friday?” “I’m actually going home for a wedding then, too.” I was like, “All my girlfriends are getting married. I don’t know what the deal is. Some of them are already married and popping babies out. That was three or four years ago, and it’s still going on. Now I’m 25, and I’m officially an old maid. I mean, what is this?” He said, “That’s our song!” We just put it on paper and wrote a melody to it.
I like that it’s the first single because it’s a bit risky. It’s probably not too safe, but I think that in itself says something. You may love it or you may hate the song, but at least it’s stirring up something. I think that if you just let your hair down and have fun with it, you can have fun with it. I guess all girls want to get married, and if you find the right person and it’s the right thing, it’s a great idea. But sometimes it’s fun to be a little irreverent too. [laughs] You gotta just not take life too seriously sometimes.
Most little girls dream about their wedding — what it will look like, what kind of dress they’ll wear, the flower arrangements, etc. Were you that type of girl?
I’ve always been so focused on this career. A lot of girls think that’s their day, and I totally get that. But for me, being a singer was my day. Being on the CMA Awards or something, that’s what I always dreamed about. I’m a little bit opposite from the norm, because when I think of my wedding, I think [of] the production thing, the show — that’s what I do every day. So, if it’s my wedding, it’s got to be special, it’s got to be different. I just want something laid-back with the people that I love around me and I’ll be happy. [laughs] I actually do know where I’m probably going to get married, and it’s a little white church on our farmland. It needs a paint job, so that’s probably where all the money’s going to go is painting that sucker so it doesn’t look like it does right now.
The farm you grew up on has been in your family for seven generations. What was that like for you?
I love being a farm girl. That’s actually the first track on the record, ‘Farm Girl,’ and it’s my autobiography. It was just a great way to grow up. I learned to appreciate every little exciting thing about life. I think that’s why I’m enjoying this ride so much, because I’ve learned how to appreciate it. I’ve learned how to be creative and entertain myself and others. There’s not a whole lot to do out there. I just learned how to enjoy simplicity and how to find true joy … and how to appreciate life. Because you see life and you see it come and you see it go there. It’s just a great place to grow up.
Obviously, it’s a working farm. Did you raise cattle or grow crops on the farm?
A little bit of both. We have half row crop, which is like corn and peanuts — those are our primary two. Then we have half cattle, so my daddy has a little bit of farm and little bit of the ranch going on. He still works the cows on horseback. We have about 300 mama cows and it’s just beef cattle. My dad’s always been interested in trying new things, and the latest is he’s gone in with his best friend and is helping with a grass-fed beef operation for Whole Foods. So, some of my dad’s cows are in [Nashville's] Whole Foods [Stores] … the Harris Family Beef is the company. I’m real proud of him.
You have a connection with the Judds. You’re managed by their manager, you grew up singing their hit, ‘Have Mercy,’ and playing their songs on your Playskool record player. You’re also on the roster of their old record label (RCA which is now part of Sony Music Nashville). What’s it like to kind of follow in their footsteps?
It’s surreal because they were such a huge part of who I am as an artist and just my musical heritage. Their records are the ones lining the halls when you first walk into the building. I’ll never forget — and this may sound corny and cheesy — but in some spiritual way, they’ve always been in my career. I walked in for my first meeting at the label, and all of their records are lining the hall. It’s sort of like them saying, “This is where you belong. This is what you’re about.”
Naomi signed a bookmark and gave it to me, and I recently opened for Wynonna, and she passed the torch to me in the form of glitter hair and body spray. So, my life is pretty much complete. Everything else is gravy right now.
How did you know a music career was your path?
It was because I didn’t pick it. It picked me. I don’t say that from an arrogant or overly confident place. I just didn’t have a choice in the matter. I guess that’s why I just thought I was a country music singer. I don’t know where I came up with this stuff when I was a kid, I just did. I sang in church when I was three before I could make a decision for myself. My parents didn’t push me in that direction, but they encouraged it.
Your mother did, however, make you compete in the ‘Little Miss King Cotton Horse Show Pageant’ to teach you a few things. What did you learn from that?
She put me in that pageant when I was five, and she said, “You’re going to be in this pageant because you need to learn how to be a lady and you need to be graceful and poised and confident. You need to learn how to speak to people and carry yourself correctly.” I was like, “OK.” And she said, “You’re not going to win, because it’s not about that.” So, she puts me up there in this hand-me-down dress, and it was like 30 little girls. I’ve seen pictures, and there we are in a row like little ducks, and you look at the feet and it’s all little white shoes, until one, and they were black patent shoes, and the rest were white. Of course, those black patent shoes were mine. We didn’t know what we were doing. But that was the start of my singing career, because the judges asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “I am a professional country music singer. I just don’t get to get on stage much.” Then I sang ‘Have Mercy’ by the Judds. Later that evening, a girl got up to be the entertainment for the night and she sang ‘Have Mercy,’ of all things. The judge that had asked me the question in the interview stopped everything. He stood up and stopped the pageant and came and found me in the audience and picked me up and put me on stage and said, “You don’t get to get on stage much, but now you do.” I’ve been singing ever since. [laughs] Word got around that a little girl was singing country songs. All the other pageants and festivals, they would invite me to come and sing, so it truly was the start of my country career. A couple of weeks later, I sang ‘On Down the Line’ by Patty Loveless at the Little Miss Peanut Pageant. [laughs]
Patty Loveless actually appears on your upcoming debut album. How did that happen?
I met her about a year-and-a-half ago or so in France. She was on the bill for this country music festival in France with a rodeo and a country-music concert at night. I got invited to play and she was the headliner. I remember her being very sweet and I thoroughly enjoyed her show, of course. Then, when I made this record, the label and my producer had the idea of reaching out to see if we can’t get her to sing on this record, because I actually reference her in a song. There’s a song called ‘Poor Little Heart,’ and it says “a cup of coffee and a Patty CD, head-bobbing because I’m buzzed on caffeine.” We thought, “She should be on this record.” We sent her a couple of things and the song she chose to sing on is called ‘Borrowed Wedding Dress.’ It’s one of my favorite songs. It’s a true story. it’s about my mom and dad’s marriage. It’s crazy that there are two songs on the record about marriage and getting married. But she sings on that one, and her voice, you can definitely tell it’s her. And it’s just so neat!