Big Smo is one of the pioneering artists in a style known as hick-hop, “Which blends rural, country themes and melodies with some rap elements…”, according to Matt Bjorke of Roughstock.com. And Rolling Stone has described Big Smo as, “If Run–D.M.C.’s ‘Walk This Way’ stomped out of Queens and ended up in the rural south.” The music on Smo’s first major label album Kuntry Livin’ took blue collar country fans by storm last year, which sparked a hit reality show on A&E, and took his band members along for the ride. One of which is rising guitar pro, Travis Tidwell. Travis is one of Nashville’s youngest success stories in the hired-guns department, which was born out of his- not only talented, but fearless, yet humble, nature. While Big Smo Season 2 is being prepped to air later this summer, TMG caught up with Travis to have a chance to see the Nashville world through the eyes of a young pro.
TMG: Travis, thank you for taking the time to share your story with That’s My Gig. How did you land the gig with Big Smo?
TRAVIS: My pleasure! Thank you for having me! Well, it had to do with both word of mouth and a Youtube video! When I was 15 or 16, I was at AT&T getting a phone with my parents. There was a woman who greeted us at the door. This woman turned out to be Gina, who is presently Smo’s personal assistant, and like another parent to me. I was going around to all the phones on the wall and pulling up my recent video that I had just posted, so that anyone who looked at the phones would inevitably see my video. Well, I pulled it up on all the phones and Gina caught me! She asked what I was doing and I was just like, “Uh, here… watch this!”. The video was my Ozzy Osbourne audition. I was basically mimicking my guitar hero, Randy Rhoads, in the video. It just so happened that she was a fan of the same guitarist and playing style. She liked the video and when she went home she told Smo about me. Before I left the store she gave me a CD that Smo was on, not even his own solo album- I think, and told me that he will be needing a guitarist soon. But it wasn’t until a few years later that it would actually happen: the day after my 19th birthday. It’s truly amazing how it happened. I’m very blessed.
TMG: Had you been posting to Youtube often at that time?
TRAVIS: I honestly posted more of my playing videos on Facebook than anything. The Ozzy audition video was the only video I had up on Youtube at the time, and was posted by my cousin- because I didn’t have a YouTube account at that moment. I’m sure at the time, there were hardly any views. I did however work on views after I posted it, by sharing it and asking other people to share- but only if they really felt it was worth it, because I always appreciated the honest feedback, good or bad. I’m very grateful that Smo watched it and liked it, and had faith in me to take on the part. I think the main thing that stuck out to Smo about my video… was probably my age.
TMG: We understand you were playing the Nashville honkey tonks before you landed the gig with Big Smo. What was that like as a performer, and do you feel like it helped prepare you for tour life with a big artist?
TRAVIS: At the time that Smo found me, I was working at Pizza Hut, Sunday through Thursday, and requested Fridays and Saturdays off so I could play music on the weekends with my dad, who had been playing around town for as long as I can remember. Even though I was mainly playing hole-in-the-wall dive bars, I felt at home and at peace when I was playing: and to be making a bit of money doing it felt great. I knew that I wanted this to be my full time job. Playing with my dad really helped me understand the stage, as not only a player- but a performer and entertainer. And I DO believe it had a hand in prepping me for the big gig.
TMG: How were the other members of Big Smo’s band selected?
TRAVIS: Haden Carpenter had been recommended by a previous bassist that we had at the time, and we instantly loved him. Eric Flores, our bassist, and Ryan Peel, our drummer, had coincidentally been recommended by Haden when the previous guys left.
TMG: We’ve heard that Big Smo just wrapped the filming for season 2 of his A&E reality series. What is the average film day like for you and the rest of the group?
TRAVIS: Yes! We recently wrapped up filming for Season 2! An average film day would start around 8 AM or so, and sometimes we’d film til’ 10 PM. Sometimes call time can be a lot earlier than film time, it really just depends. But, it has been very fun and quite an experience to film this show. When we watch the episodes, we just laugh and bring up silly things we did, that the cameras might not have caught. Or we’ll catch our own inside jokes as the episodes air, which we always get a kick out of. What you see on the television show is what you get with us. And if you ever see us play live, you can definitely get that vibe that you see on the TV show. We’re all real dudes who like to have a good time. We have a blast and insist on portraying that very thing on the stage, without the TV cameras. Someone just thought it was a good idea to capture those moments and put them on TV!
TMG: You guys are busy! How do you balance working on the show, touring, and having a personal life?
TRAVIS: Yes, very busy, thankfully! It’s not an easy lifestyle that we all signed up for. With all the hype of the television show, touring, and recording, it can be VERY stressful. I feel like, with everything that goes on with our careers, especially in the public eye, there is a certain level of expectation, a standard that we must meet. It is required every time we meet with fans, we cannot disappoint, and would never give anything but 110%. In this position, we realize that there is no way around good ole’ butt bustin’, back breaking- work. We each love our role and part, and choose to work hard to give back to what has gotten us here. And being on the road, getting to see many lifestyles, you realize that no one is better than anyone: it’s not what’s important. Seeing so much life really keeps us humble. Let’s face it, it could be worse, right? I’m not slinging pizzas anymore, and that’s still better than some have it! Humility keeps us balanced. I’m blessed to be in good hands of people who will only tolerate good people in the camp: a great environment, great energy. But as I said, it can be stressful, and I’m blessed with wonderful people around me, my girlfriend being one. She sees how passionate I am and deals with my absence and work schedule.
TMG: You are one of the blessed few guitarists that was snapped into a gig just out of high school. How does road life compare to what you had imagined?
TRAVIS: Well being as young as I was when I got the gig, I had a totally different view on how I thought it would be, or how I wanted it to be… ha! It’s very cool to get to play such magnificent stages with such a crazy amount of people to play for. It’ll never get old. The surprise I got was that these incredible talents that I’ve met and gotten to know, are just regular people. Looking past all the fame and attention that Smo is receiving, he’s just a normal dude, as are any of us. One thing about tour that can get kind of old, is being in a bus for very long hours at a time. It can truly be difficult to just sit on the bus and wait for your arrival. We all get a little stir crazy! I hear that a county jail cell has more room than we got, with less people! Haha! But these are blessings nonetheless. Like I said, could be worse!
TMG: What are 3 do’s you could give to aspiring musicians on how to prepare for a pro-level gig?
TRAVIS: 1) Learn as much as you can: as many styles, genres, even instruments as you can. Being versatile is a great asset to have. The more you know, the more likely you’re going to get a job!
2) Be HUMBLE! All players, I believe, have an ego of some sort. Having an ego is normal, but having a BIG or BAD ego is not a good trait. One reason is, when you score a gig in a band, you’re a family in a sense and you want to get along. If not, your trips and time together will be miserable. The other reason to be humble is because no matter how good you are, there is always someone who is better, and so on. Music isn’t always about being better or being the best, it’s a language and nature of its own.
3) GET OUT THERE AND PLAY! Playing in your bedroom is definitely necessary for learning and honing your chops, but get out there and showcase your talent to the world. Again it’s not about being the best. At your own level, you may very well have what someone wants or needs in a player. You never know who is watching and who might see you. It’s also very important to play in front of an audience and to start finding yourself as a performer, and an entertainer. Nothing is better than first hand experience, and it’s not as scary you think!
TMG: And what are 3 don’ts that could hinder a musician’s chances of becoming a pro-level player?
TRAVIS: 1. Never listen to haters. We’ve been taught this since grade school and it’s as plain as that. The sad truth is that we’re never going to be able to please EVERYONE. And that is perfectly okay, because it’s impossible.
- Never BE the hater. We musicians are a family in it’s own. We should live to SUPPORT each other because we share a common goal/dream. If you are a “better” player than someone, do NOT flaunt that. Instead, offer to show them some licks, and believe it or not, you can learn from them as well. Even if it’s what NOT to do. The Golden Rule applies here. Do you like being hated on?
- Do not let your ego get in the way of potential jobs. This goes with being humble, so it’s worth mentioning again. It’s dire that you understand that music is not a competition. And if it is, like any competition, congratulate the winner, take notes, ask for advice and so on. One of the best things you can do to better yourself as a player is ask for help and advice. Never let pride hinder you from learning and expanding your horizons.
TMG: We are well into 2015, what can fans expect to see of Big Smo and the band throughout the rest of this year?
TRAVIS: I think it’s safe to look forward to new adventures on the TV show. We can’t wait for all our fans to see Season 2! You’re going to see a lot more goof-balling, from myself included, and a lot more footage of us stomping through and showing people what we’re made of. You can also look forward to seeing us come to new places and playing for new faces. Also keep looking out for new music! We’re working on getting that out there as soon as we can!
TMG: Travis, thank you for the thoughtful and real advice. We wish you all the best and are really looking forward to watching your career blossom in the years to come!