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That's Country

Anthony Smith's first hit is the rough-and-tumble country-rocker "If That Ain't Country" -- and as a native of the tiny, rural East Tennessee town of Oneida, this is one guy who knows what country is.

"It was a blast," Anthony says of his upbringing. "I always lived on the river. Me and some of my friends used to just stay out running through the woods and fishing. I loved it."

It was there that Anthony first learned to love music. "As soon as my fingers were able to chord a guitar, I was playing one," he recalls. By age 8, he was playing in church and writing his own melodies. "They were probably horrible," he laughs, "but I would run through the house and show my mom."

He wrote his first complete song -- a gospel number called "God Is" -- at 15, and before long was playing in bands around town. "I was working at a factory at the time," he remembers, "but I went to work with this band making more money in a couple of nights than I was making all week in that factory!"

Encouraged, Anthony moved 50 miles north to Corbin, Ky., where he paid his dues in clubs for three years before packing up and moving to Nashville in 1995. Once in Music City, he began writing hits like George Strait's "Run," "I'm Tryin'" by Trace Adkins, and "Didn't I" by Montgomery Gentry.

Anthony scored a record deal of his own last September, and his debut CD, If That Ain't Country, is due in stores this month. "There's been so many thrills," he says. "It's like every day there's a new one."

At the moment, Anthony is itching to get back to the biggest thrill of all -- playing his music live.

"Being onstage is the ultimate," he declares. "For someone who's never done that, the only thing I could tell them is ... well, I can't really explain it. For me, writing and recording is just the means to go out there and support my addiction to performing.

"I know it's just a miracle that I've been allowed to do it, and every day I'm thankful."

-- Chris Neal