Nina Jo Smith

Nina Jo Smith

San Francisco, California, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | INDIE

San Francisco, California, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2014
Solo Folk Singer/Songwriter




"Ojai Native Releases Single"

Nina Jo Smith's song, “Make Love Not War,” was released Aug. 10. The song is a ukelele reggae inspired by the events of 9/11 and described as “a swinging 'Little Boxes' for the 21st century.”
Smith, who did the vocals and played the ukelele, is an indie song- writer who grew up in Ojai and now lives in San Francisco.... the song, with a message that is timeless, has a really fun feel and is a sing- along.... Gentle, but with some sharp wit. - Ojai Valley News

"Make Love Not War Hits The Nail On The Head...With A Flower..."

Nina Jo brings back everything I loved about the 1960s, the dream of peace, the power of love and a disdain for the war machine. This is a perfect time for that emotion to resurface, and her song "Make Love Not War" really hits the nail on the head... but with a flower instead of a hammer. Another thing I love about it is that I keep hearing Bob Marley in my head! I believe Bob would have loved this one as well. - Michael Buffalo Smith - Universal Music Tribe

"Nina Jo Smith's People Places & Sings"

A long-standing member of the Bay Area songwriter community, Nina Jo Smith is a troubadour in the truest sense of the word: writing, playing and living music no matter what life may be presenting.... (for more, click on URL below) - Deborah Crooks, Bird in the Tree

"Great tunes"

Great tunes done like a songwriter's album.
--Stephen Foster
- Mighty Field of Vision Tribe

"JJ Schultz on Nina Jo"

Yeah, so, Nina Jo! Nina, from my observation, is a strong, strong woman - when things get crazy she is not shaken and rarely stirred, but when she sings, her voice betrays a sensitivity - I almost want to say 'frail', but that's the wrong word, I would never use that word to describe Nina, but there's some middle ground there, there's a bit of tenderness there that I find makes a strong contrast with Nina's strength. She writes and sings americana and folk - stories of traveling and adventure (my favorite stories) and she occasionally plays them on our old friend Lee Mallory's guitars (very lucky indeed). Nina is a dear friend of the utah, and I'm very excited she's the feature. For more info on Nina Jo, have a look here: - The Hotel Utah

"Shines With the Sunshine"

Nina Jo Smith has uncovered that place from where all unpretentious music emanates. With quiet strength, Smith's tunes shine with the sunshine of wisdom, humility, humor, and tranquility. Sit comfortably, play her soulful songs, close your eyes, and listen.

--Crystal Eastman
Crystal and the Wolves -

"Nina Jo Smith's People Places & Sings"

A long-standing member of the Bay Area songwriter community, Nina Jo Smith is a troubadour in the truest sense of the word: writing, playing and living music no matter what life may be presenting. After running into Nina Jo and her 12-string guitar at a recent Go Girls Music showcase in San Francisco, and hearing about her new "People, Places & Sings" project, I got this fact that much more. It seemed the perfect opportunity to ask more about her process.

DC You've been writing and playing music in SF for a while? Have you lived other places? What do you think is special about being a songwriter/musician in the Bay Area?

Nina Jo: I grew up in Ojai, California, a place of strong beauty and spirit. We raised a lot of our own food, so I grew up with a strong connection to the soil. We lived across the street from the cemetery, so I often sat under one of the great oak trees there and contemplated where the people went when they left their bodies. The cycle of acorns to oaks and back again gave me a sense of how time, life and death might work, and I guess you could say I learned to meditate from the ground up. Ojai’s closeness of mountains, brightness of stars, intensity of summer heat, scent of orange blossoms and roar of bees in springtime gave me a strong sense of place.

There’s a great community of songwriters and musicians in the Bay Area, so I benefit from some great friendships here. We do suffer from an odd kind of provincialism that can lead to complacency in style and craft. There are so many of us that it’s pretty impossible to support yourself as a musician here. Everybody wants music but no one wants to pay musicians a living wage. We have to support ourselves some other way and so most of us effectively pay to play and we have to leave to earn. On the other hand, this is true of musicians all over this country, hence the tour and the dire financial position of most American musicians.

After Hurricane Katrina and after Lee Mallory passed, I was looking for communities of musicians who support each other through hard times. I found a community of folks around Mighty Field of Vision Radio ( rooted in the music of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. I’d always loved swampy sounding music and it turns out that part of the country is where that music comes from and not only that, these were some of the people who create that sound. They took me in as one of their own and I’ve never been the same since I sipped from the wellspring of American Music that flows from the South.

DC What keeps you going as an artist? Where do you go for inspiration?

NJ What keeps me going as an artist is all the years I didn't play. After my brother was killed on New Year’s Eve, 1979, I spent twenty years on a music fast, teaching self defense and counseling survivors of violence. I couldn’t even listen to music the first year and I have a lot of lost time to make up for.

I still listen closely to the silence beyond the silence, because that’s where music comes from. It’s the genius of the river of music that it’s always there if you dip your cup into it. So after a gap of twenty years, I could still play guitar and sing, even better than when I’d stopped.

Lee Mallory is a great inspiration for me. I first met him at The Hotel Utah open mic, where I started playing in 2003 when I turned 50. When I heard Lee sing “That’s The Way It’s Gonna Be,” I recognized him as the voice I heard singing the song on radio when I was 13. That song was a youth anthem that helped get me through my parent’s divorce and our move from Ojai to Orange County. As Lee and I got to know and love one another and after we began living together, I noticed that the man was more than a master musician. He was music. Now that is something I aspire to, to become music.

DC You've just launched a new project People, Places & Sings. Can you tell us about how that idea started and where you plan to go?

NJ I’d noticed that a lot of my songs are little memoirs or portraits describing places I’ve been & people I’ve known, like Pomegranate & Tangerine, Cosmic Lady, Buddha at the backdoor (about a cat.) Strong songs have a lot of specific images of people, places and things, so I thought, hmmm…. People Places & Sings.

When I was working on the Obama campaign in Las Vegas last fall, I talked with a lot of people on the phone and at their front doors. I’d often start the conversation by asking “How ya doin’?” and they’d tell me. I came to wish I could simply go across the country knocking on doors and asking people how they’re doing. People Places & Sings is a way of doing that town by town.

I’ll go to a place, stay for about a week with a local host and get to know the place from the perspective of folks who live there. Mainly, I want to listen and learn “What about your town?” and, very importantly, “Where can I get a good piece of pie?”

It’s a slow cookin’ backwards tour. Instead of zipping through towns trying to sell a new album, I’ll stay awhile and create songs out of the experience.

DC How is People, Places & Sings different/similar to your previous work? Is it changing your writing process?

NJ: My “Guitar Songs” were written primarily on one trip from San Francisco through and the Mojave to Big Bear, covering all kinds of California’s magnificent terrain.” People Places & Sings” shares a strong sense of place but moves beyond California, and aspires to be more biographical than autobiographical. The songs are like postcards from one town to another. So I’m mapping some of our country’s lesser-known or erroneously-known places in song. In Lafayette, Alabama, I was hosted by my friend Janice Key-Walding, The Southern Herbalist. Alabama is lush and always surprising. I wrote a song called Snake In The Rafters (true story)… Next stop, Fresno.
You can find out more about Nina Jo's music and life and buy her Cd's at Redwood River Music and CdBaby

Posted by Deborah Rose Crooks at 2:12 PM
Labels: interviews, music, san francisco, songwriting -

"Dick Cooper Bday, Muscle Shoals Jam"

My favorite part of the night was the late night sing along after [Wayne] Perkins finally showed up.... I stood there in the door way of the living room and watched Nina Jo and Foster, Scott Boyer Jr and Perkins jam out with everyone singing at the top of their lungs in a burst of inspired harmony.
--Sara Miller, Jeremiah's Hope 2/1/06 yahoo group - Mighty Field of Vision Tribe

"Dick Cooper Bday, Muscle Shoals Jam 2"

...who shows up at midnight smilin' like a jack ass eatin' biars...WAYNE "WHERE"S WALDO" PERKINS !

So he goes in and sits down next to the Baby Grand in the Living Room and he and Nina Jo on guitars and Sluggea on Congos' and several other people playin' and singin'...they said that went on until about 5 o'clock [AM]...they were doin' old Beatles songs when I left..and everybody was still smilin'...
JD Wyker 2/1/06 yahoo group - Mighty Field of Vision Tribe


LA Man, duo recorded with Penny Nichols on her Golden State album, PenSongs Productions, 2015 - Earned Global Music Awards in Folk and Songwriting categories (2015)

People, Places and Sings CD released on Redwood River Music April 29, 2013 - first full-length studio album - "Hey Songwriter" picked up by 323 radio stations

Make Love Not War (digital single) ukelele reggae (Jawaiian arrangement) released on Musik and Film August 10, 2012 - Received international radio play

Guitar Songs EP (May 21, 2006) - Redwood River Music.



Psst: Nina rhymes with China

Nina Jo Smith likes to eavesdrop. She borrows stories from small town cemeteries and kitchen confessions. She imagines what her underground neighbors might be saying.

Nina Jo is a fearless songwriter, a deft and rhythmic fingerpicker on both guitar and ukulele. She spent the last few years reclaiming her voice after an illness left her lungs scarred. 

On this forthcoming album she lets her scarred lungs fly free. Delicate and tough—just like her songs. And while you might hear a lot of songs in a day, you’ll wake up in the morning humming hers. 

She's recording this, her vibrant second studio album in her 70th year.

Background: Her successfully Kickstarted "People, Places and Sings" was her first full-length studio album. Nina Jo returned to performing twenty years after her brother was murdered. During those silent years, Nina Jo earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and taught self-defense to more than a thousand people. Nina Jo brings the focus and passion of a martial artist to her gentle music. Her song, LA Man, recorded by Penny Nichols, with Nina Jo on guitar and additional vocals, won a Global Music Award in Folk and Songwriting categories (2015).

Influences: Joni Mitchell, Gretchen Peters, Betty Soo, Allison Russel, Woody Guthrie, Chris Smither, Jason Isbell, Zachary Richard.

Band Members