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Tuesday, October 26, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 46

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Former UH student makes his own music

By J.R. Gonzales
Daily Cougar Staff 

Delta Upsilon likes a good, clean party. So when it came time for members to plan their annual Pushball celebration, they looked for a musician who would go over well with the audience.

Ideally, the fraternity wanted country musician Pat Green to perform. But it ended up with Lance Smith.


Singer and former UH student Lance Smith performs at Delta Upsilon's Pushball party in Houston last weekend.

J.R. Gonzales/The Daily Cougar

If the 21-year-old Cy-Creek graduate had done better during his five semesters at UH, things might have gone a little differently for him. But instead, he was singing and playing lead guitar at the party, trying to keep his focus among the flashbulbs, camcorders and intermittent screams of "I love you, Lance!" from the ladies.

Not that that's a bad thing. Lance and his band (unofficially called the Guacamole Holy Men) got the audience worked up with classic songs like "Little Sister" and "Sweet Home Alabama." It was a far cry from Lance's days at UH, when he was a mechanical engineering major with a mediocre GPA.

Lance admitted he didn't get sidetracked at UH, saying UH is a hard place to get distracted. "It was a daze," he said. "I don't know. I never was into it."

Throughout all this, Lance had been playing guitar regularly since the age of 12. Friends and family members told Lance's father Mike Smith that his son played well, but still needed some training. Meanwhile, a small community college in the Texas Panhandle was busy dealing with the press it was getting over a couple of Grammy nominations.

Not many people outside the Texas music scene knew about South Plains College a year ago. Even fewer could find Levelland, Texas, where the main campus is located, on a map.

But all that changed when country singer Lee Ann Womack and Dixie Chicks member Natalie Maines received nominations for the 1999 Grammy awards. Both are graduates of South Plains' commercial music program.

"My dad made the mistake of telling me about this music school up here," Lance jokingly said from his home in Lubbock. "I went and checked it out, and a week later I was registered, enrolled and ready to go."

The decision to abandon a potentially profitable career in the engineering industry for the financially unstable world of commercial music was not lost on Lance's friends at UH.

"Lance is pretty stubborn," said Scot Buchanan, a former UH student and Delta Upsilon member. "I wouldn't say I tried to talk him out of it, but I did put it in his head that that's a tough road (he was) about to take."

"From the view of a parent who wants a child to find the thing to do, that they're meant to do in life, I thought it was a good thing," Mike said.

To avoid getting burned financially, Lance's parents let him pay his own tuition at the school during his first semester. Waiting tables before leaving Houston provided him with some cash when he moved to Lubbock for the spring 1999 semester. Once there, Lance's grades improved, and he was awarded a scholarship.

"It's kinda different," Lance said. "It's not like taking calculus and you have to go home and study for three hours. I sit there and I learn the songs in class, and then really I just go home and practice them.

"It's not like, 'Oh, I got to go crack open a book,'" he said. "It's like, 'Oh, I got to crack open my guitar case and jam for a while.'"

With the increasing number of gigs he is being offered, those who know Lance agree that his guitar case is cracked open often.

Cary Banks, an instructor at South Plains and member of the Maines Brothers Band, said he is amazed at the progression Lance has made over the couple of semesters he has known him.

"Anytime in the day or night, if you see Lance, he's got a guitar in his hand," Banks said.

In addition to the 18 hours of classes Lance takes at the college, he normally plays four or five nights a week in Lubbock, sometimes until 1 a.m. That doesn't take into account the 30-mile trek from Lubbock to Levelland every day for classes.

It's easy to think the number of gigs he plays gives him the chance at creativity, but Lance said he quickly found out audiences in Lubbock generally want to hear two types of music.

"Everybody likes to hear Pat Green, Robert Earl Keen and stuff at certain bars," Lance said. "And then you go to another bar and it's like, 'Well, we want to hear George Strait,' you know, all the mainstream stuff. So you gotta learn, like, two sets of music, really, for two different crowds."

Banks said that's what the South Plains music department tries to teach its students. In the commercial music program, students are taught music theory, songwriting, promotion and developing an on-stage presence.

"When they leave here, their competition is Garth Brooks and Michael Jackson and those people," Banks said. "So we try to give them the training that they'll need to prepare them for that."

He added that comparisons between South Plains' program and those like UH's Moores School of Music are inaccurate.

"The University of Houston and what they call 'fine arts music training' has 500 years of tradition including Mozart, Bach, Stravinsky," Banks said. "We have Bo Diddley and Roy Acuff."

Whether or not Lance will make enough to earn a living in the industry remains to be seen. Any money he gets from playing is split among his band members, and it's not uncommon to find him setting up for touring bands like Quiet Riot.

"That's the real worry," Mike Smith said. "I don't know on that. I mean, yes, in a way you're burning up a part of your life learning something that may not be your industry or your career. But I guarantee you he'll play guitar all his life."

In case Lance's desire to become a musician doesn't pan out, he's decided to enroll at Texas Tech as a communication major.

But if Lance had his way, he'd be playing tunes by the now-defunct rock band the Beat Farmers all over Lubbock. The Southern California band is perhaps best known for its vocal stylings and credited beer runs of Country Dick Montana.

Perhaps the best music industry advice Lance has received was an autograph by Jerry Raney, vocalist, guitarist and percussionist for the band. It reads: "Lance, don't grow up to be like Country Dick."

Country Dick died of a heart attack while performing a few months later. Good advice indeed.
 

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