Juzzie Smith is a one man band. Not just any one man band but possibly the best known busker in the world. That’s some serious credential for a lad who grew up in Canberra and studied in Lismore. He has his own home studio in Ocean Shores and while he’s the king of multi-tasking, he only started performing solo when he was 26 – the same year he became a father.
“Becoming a father means early mornings and early nights and I decided to choose the option of playing markets and more daytime gigs where I could be with my family a lot but also play a lot,” Juzzie told Blank GC.
“I feel that’s when my career really took off.”
“I always loved playing music and I realised that being a one man band I only had to organise myself and it just gave me this chance to really grow musically. It’s just tricky [staying in a band]. It’s hard to make a living out of it, there’s lots of travelling involved and playing in pubs is quite tiring.”
“Playing at festivals and markets really supported me, not just to play a lot but really grow musically. And instantly it was really successful – I couldn’t make enough CDs, they just sold like hotcakes and I realised I was onto something pretty special here – and I got to pay off all my bills, and hang out with my family.”
14 years on and Juzzie has nailed his live show. He’s one of the most popular buskers on youtube and as well as continuing to play markets and daytime gigs, he’s also sought after for festivals the world over. He performed to a few thousand people at Blues on Broadbeach and had the third-top selling album after a performance at Bluesfest.
And while it may seem counter-productive to be a one man band on such big festival stages, Juzzie says that’s not the case.
No, if the sound is good, never. It’s all about feeling.
“If you have a good sound you can feel it and that really connects with people and they don’t feel like you’re trying,” he said.
Of course being a one man band means that instrumental mastery is compulsory. Juzzie plays harmonica, guitar and percussion – which he doesn’t just play, but juggles. He also sings harmonics. He credits the multi-tasking ability to parenting.
“You just realise you don’t have much time and I started practicing on the street – then you have an idea, then turn that idea into a song and you’d get to play it a few times a day and that’s how my music grew,” he said.
And in terms of actual musical talent, he’s been playing the harmonica since he was 13. The youngest of four siblings, he was the only child not “pushed” into music by his parents.
“By the time they got to me they gave up because it didn’t work on the other kids,” Juzzie said, laughing. “And I’m the only one that plays music – which goes to show that you shouldn’t push your kids to play music.”
Which is a lesson he applies to his own children – aged 14 and 12.
“Because I play music around them so much they’re just naturally musical,” he said. “They’ve become my stereo – I just listen to them singing melodies – I put a keyboard in the living room and that’s my stereo. I tell them they can help with dinner or play music and quite often it’s playing music. My daughter has an amazing voice and my son has great rhythm. There’s no pressure on them though, I just want them to feel the joy of music – even if it’s at home playing music for themselves.”
Juzzie is expecting to release a new album in April next year, but he’s going to drip-feed it to fans, one song at a time.
“I’ve been doing a bit of recording lately, which is fun,” he said. “I have my own studio at home and I find when you record, you learn something about your sound and then when you take that to playing live, you go up a notch in quality.”
If you can’t wait until April though, you’re in luck. Juzzie has just been announced to perform two concerts at NightQuarter as part of the opening of the light rail extension to Helensvale.
What does he have in store for that gig? Some blues, of course.
“I’ll do a train song you will never forget,” he said.
Juzzie Smith plays NightQuarter’s Interchange Festival on 13 January.
IMAGE (c) Lamp Photography