As a student, Valerie Smith used to stare out the windows of a Holt, Missouri, classroom and dream of getting away to sing. Years later, she ended up teaching in the same classroom – and having the same daydream.
Although she was passionate about teaching, Valerie also had another passion and that was performing. Living in a small Midwest town of 300, there were not a lot of venues to release that extra, artistic energy. Valerie began to think that she would have to make a choice, she recalls, "I’d look out the window and wonder, ‘Is this life?’
But just when she was thinking that she’d settle down in her hometown of Holt, population 301, her grandpa, on his deathbed, gave her a nudge. “He held my hand and said, ‘I’ve never seen the ocean. You have to see it for me.” He wanted to, but the cows and the chores always seemed to get in the way. From that moment, in her mid-20s, Valerie decided to chase her dreams. She saw the ocean and, after her husband’s fortuitous transfer to Nashville, she found a way to sing.
Her musical adventure began the way many do in Nashville, with a day job not tied to music. While working for an advertising agency, she started attending song circles. After moving to nearby Bell Buckle, Tennessee, she played in a sidewalk string band and helpedproduce a concert series, Live at the Bell Buckle Café.
Her big break, like much else in her music career, came from her own initiative, and from not knowing that you don’t just pick up the phone, call someone at the top of the game and invite that person to help you make a record. “I didn’t know the rules,” she says with a shrug and a grin. “I didn’t know there were rules, it was probably a good thing too.”
The call went to Alan O’Bryant of the Nashville Bluegrass Band. He asked her to sing overthe phone. One verse into “Green Pastures,” he agreed to produce her first recording, "Patchwork Heart". It was recorded on Bell Buckle Records, which she helped start. She’s been living her dreams and singing ever since. Along the way, the singer-songwriter learned a few important things about herself.
For starters, she pays more attention to the woman in the mirror than to anyone else. “At the end of the day, you have to accept who you are,” she explains. “It’s balance. There’s no in-between for people like me. There are certain things people want you to be. You have to be brave enough to say, ‘No, I’m this person.’”
She traces that determination to be true to herself to an early-career conversation with Waylon Jennings. “Waylon told me never to change who I am for anyone. His exact wordswere ‘you are you, and no one else can do what you do.’”
True to Valerie’s independence and sense of freedom she encourages her daughter, Josie when they hike, “It’s good to get off the trail sometimes and make your own path.” She’s heard the questions concerning the different musical paths that she has taken, when truly, Valerie is a pure artist that revisits her eclectic tastes in music and says, "Every trail has unique qualities that teach us something new and exciting". Due to past stories of health challenges that are far in the past, she has had to struggle to overcome the odds. As she quotes, “I was determined to take a new trail of the unknown. I think that’s my story, a story of determination.”