Near-misses typically sting the most. After all, as Townes Van Zandt wrote, “There ain’t no dark ’til something shines.” But Todd Snider’s closest brush with a big time payout-Garth Brooks recording his “Alright Guy” for The Life of Chris Gaines-left the Oregon native with a sweet taste in his mouth, even after the song was dropped from the record. Thank Brooks’s integrity for that.Near-misses typically sting the most. After all, as Townes Van Zandt wrote, “There ain’t no dark ’til something shines.” But Todd Snider’s closest brush with a big time payout-Garth Brooks recording his “Alright Guy” for The Life of Chris Gaines-left the Oregon native with a sweet taste in his mouth, even after the song was dropped from the record. Thank Brooks’s integrity for that.
“[Garth] was really gracious about it, and he gave me a bunch of money just for my time,” Snider says. “That was a cool experience. I got to play the guitar and the harmonica. Boy…it was on the record until the last minute. I mean, like the day before. That’s why he was so generous towards me. He felt really bad about it, and he’s a good dude.’
Two years later, Gary Allan followed through where Brooks balked. Allan cut “Alright Guy” as the title track to his 2001 follow-up to Smoke Rings in the Dark. At that point, Snider was no stranger to having his songs recorded by county stars. In 1995, Mark Chesnutt recorded Snider’s Trouble for his album Wings, and Snider says the songs-both from his 1994 MCA debut Songs from the Daily Planet-garnered interest by pure happenstance.
“I’ve never had anyone going out there and trying to get it done for me,” he explains. “Most of my cuts have happened because a person heard my song at a party or something and wanted to record it. Garth saw me on ‘Austin City Limits.'”
Snider is proof that persistence can nudge open the right doors. In his case, tracking down Nashville producer and songwriter Keith Sykes led to his first record deal. “I got obsessed with Keith and found his house and asked him to teach me to do certain things on guitar,” he says. “Keith had been in Jimmy [Buffett]’s Coral Reefer Band, and he took me in and helped me. Keith decided that it was important to him that I get to make an album, so he called Jimmy.”
Since then, Snider has earned a reputation as one of the most exciting and unpredictable live performers touring today. In August he released The Devil You Know, his fourth studio effort, on a new Universal Music Enterprises imprint-New Door Records. It might be his best yet. Snider’s struggle to understand spirituality is as common a theme as freedom is on any given Kris Kristofferson album.
“Believe shit [or] every word I sing/but believing and knowing/those are two different things,” Snider sings on “Happy New Year.” ”
And if you’re trying to change the way a stranger’s life will have to go/I believe this is where I want to stick to what I know/which is nothing you know?”
“My main philosophy is that philosophy is allright,” he says, laughing. “You tell me your theory about how the world works, and I’ll go, ‘Right on,’ like a hippie. But then you ask me for some dough and I’m out. You ask me to go talk to some other people about your thing and I’m out. But if you’re willing to sit here while I smoke this joint, I’ll listen to your whole deal.”
That curiosity is the driving force behind The Devil You Know. Whether it’s deconstructing the blue-collar grind (“Looking for a Job”), looking to the past as a mirror to the future (“Just Like Old Times”) or skewering our president (“You Got Away With It (A Tale of Two Fraternity Brothers”), Snider remains a tireless seeker of his own inner truths.
“I feel like I’m walking around in a world where I’m meeting tons of people every day who have a definitive answer to why we’re here [on Earth],” he says. “They’re willing to argue and get mad over it, and that makes me really sad. It makes it a little less exciting to walk around. I want to be one of those people who is not like that.”