40 YEARS OF PORTSMOUTH'S MUSIC SCENE
Seacoast Online Article
PORTSMOUTH – Cuzin Richard Entertainment Associates, known to all as “Cuzin Richard,” marks its 40th anniversary this year of bringing the best in music, comedy, entertainment and festivals to New Hampshire.
Owner and founder Richard Smith has worked with big names and fresh talent during his storied career, and is proud to have helped in the launch of more than a few now famous acts.
“We had The Cars playing at the Pease Airman’s Club on New Year’s Eve,” he recalls. “I saw Bill Morrissey, Cormac McCarthy and Ed Gerhard when they all gigged at the Stone Church and started booking them. I’d deliver contracts to them as they pumped gas at the Mobile station over in Newmarket. A lot of great talent got their start here on the Seacoast and I’m fortunate to have been able to work with many of them.”
Portsmouth was a much different place when Smith started Cuzin Richard in 1976. The restaurant revival was just beginning and the tourists were not yet making the Port City a destination. But, the city had a huge love of music and as it turned out, musical talent of all types was in abundance throughout the region. Smith, who grew up in Lebanon, N.H., fell in love with music early on after working in his family’s record store.
In the 1970s, he was working for WUNH as a DJ, which put him in contact with record companies such as Philo/Rounder. His first two forays into booking talent connected him with some of the best.
“I was doing a reggae show at WUNH and the Stone Church reached out to me about putting on a Reggae Night there. I called out to Island Records to see if they had some talent they wanted to promote,” he said. “They sent over Bob Marley, Toots Hibbert and several others. They were incredible.”
Smith said he connected with The Cars in a rather roundabout way. “They had a contract with Warner Brothers Reprise but hadn’t played anywhere yet,” he said. “I was working with Les Pitman, who had a recording studio in South Berwick, Maine. Les had some famous clients, like Dick Curless, who had a huge hit with ‘A Tombstone Every Mile.’
“Les’s daughter ran the Pease Airman’s Club and they needed a band for New Year’s Eve. She reached out to me and I played her The Cars’ song ‘Just What I Needed’ and she loved it. They played Pease and then we got them to play at the UNH MUB for $400.”
By 1978, Smith had an office in his home in Portsmouth and was working with talent such as Ben Baldwin & The Big Note, Tommy Gallant & the All Stars, Fleet Street Shuffle, Lunch at the Dump, Road Apple, Ruckas and Company, Off & Sailing, Bosco, Danny Doll, Hannibal Mo, Milt Appleby, Joe Pomerleau, Bruce Lawson, Doug Bennett and Banjo Dan. He credits these musicians with helping him connect with others and build his business.
The late 1970s saw sweeping cultural changes in Portsmouth, and Smith was quick to get involved, joining Pro Portsmouth and the newly-formed Prescott Park Arts Festival under then executive director Jamie Batson. Area businessmen were eager to tap into the growing music scene. Mike Smith and Peter Rice of the Dolphin Striker, along with Jill and Dick Gallant, who owned the Oar House, formed the Seacoast Council on Tourism and then contacted Smith to produce the Portsmouth Jazz Festival on Ceres Street. Other collaborations followed, including his creating the New Hampshire Folk Festival, which premiered at The Music Hall and featured Tommy Makem.
“Tommy was an amazing storyteller who incorporated both humor and sorrow,” Smith said. “He was known worldwide as a singer, songwriter and political activist; he’s even on a stamp over in Ireland. He also played at Bob Dylan’s concert at Carnegie Hall.”
Smith, Larry Simons, John Grady and Bruce Pingree launched JazzMouth, a jazz poetry festival, and he has worked for years with Jim McCue of the Boston Comedy Festival to bring first-rate comedians to the Seacoast. Smith, Mark Kelliher and Jamie Baston were co-founders of First Night Portsmouth.
The list of talent Smith has showcased is a who’s who: Dizzy Gillespie, Arlo Guthrie, Patty Larkin, Bill Stanes, Diana Krall, David Grisman, Bo Diddley, TJ Wheeler, Spyro Gyra, Eddie Palmieri, Shenandoah, Aztec Two Step, White Mountain Express and many more.
“I remember when Diana Krall came to Portsmouth we picked her up at the airport and the first thing she said was that she needed to find a Victoria’s Secret store to buy an outfit for that night’s show, so we took her shopping,” he said with a laugh. “Another time, we were in a time crunch and Bo Diddley needed to get picked up from the airport, so TJ Wheeler and Bicycle Bob drove to Boston to get him. Think of the talent in that car!”
Smith is proud of all the projects he’s been involved in, but one of his favorites is Harbor Arts, a museum of New Hampshire performing arts artifacts, which tells the story of the Granite State’s musical past.
Through Harbor Arts, he was able to bring Dave Brubeck to town, as well as other performers.
“People have no idea how much talent there is in New Hampshire, or what an influence that talent has had on the music scene in general,” he said. “This story needs to be told.”
Smith credits much of his success to many great affiliations along the way and being in the right place at the right time.
“Everything was happening in Portsmouth in the 70s,” he said. “You had Jon Kimball and Grace Kelly starting Theatre by the Sea, then the opening of Pontine and Kitchen Sink Mime. Strawbery Banke was getting underway. People like Jim Haller launched the first gourmet restaurant, The Blue Strawberry. Sam Jarvis was active in the community. DJ Rick Bean was doing amazing theme nights at UNH; Dave Seiler of UNH was feeding tremendous jazz talent into the local clubs, and the media was excited about the arts scene.
“We had great support from writers like John Grady and Laura Pope. There were also some exciting radio programs on WUNH, like late night jazz with Charlie Kohlhase, Bruce Pingree had a blues program, and Larry Etscovitz had a classical program. It was a feast for music lovers.”
When asked why he has remained so involved in the music scene over four decades, Smith smiles and says, “I love music. I find it inspiring and invigorating. It can take me to a place that allows me to deal with everything else that’s going on in the world and not get down about it. Music provides hours of comfort and joy.”
Smith shows no signs of slowing down. Cuzin Richard is currently booking a diverse group of artists such as AJ Edwards, the Scharf Brothers, Black Agnes, Soggy Po’ Boys, Wicked Smart Horn Band, Acoustic Radio, Entrain and others.
“CREA is always evolving,” he said. “As art should.”
He and long-time partner DJ Scott Langlois, are also working on their next venture, the Boston Irish Comedy Tour, which will make a stop at The Music Hall next St. Patrick’s Day weekend, March 18. The tour will bring step dancers, bagpipers, leprechauns and the best in Boston Irish comedians to Portsmouth, with a percentage of proceeds benefiting Veterans Count and the Dan Healy Foundation.
“I love working with nonprofits whenever I can,” Smith said. “If you can use music and performance to help a good cause, so much the better. As for the next 40 years, I’m just looking for inspiration. I know the pieces will fall into place and I’ll continue to be able to make things happen. I’m just very grateful for the way things have gone so far – so many friends, colleagues and collaborations have come together to make for a successful career. It’s been quite a ride.”