Travis Tidwell Interview : Hick-Hop’s Own Zakk Wylde (@TravisTidwell01)
Travis Tidwell from Big Smo’s Band
“Hick-Hop’s Own Zakk Wylde”
By Jesse James
Big Smo’s guitarist Travis Tidwell has been shining for years, dropping the tasty licks that drive the Kinfoke crazy. This former child prodigy, mixes a little bit of Yngwie Malmsteen and a whole lot of Zakk Wylde to create the rock thunder that Big Smo needs for his live shows. Now with the hit Big Smo reality series on A&E TV, Travis is Big Smo’s lovable sidekick and offers up some the most hilarious moments of the shows first season.
Rebel Row caught up with Travis to talk about his humble beginnings, linking up with Big Smo, being recognized in public for the first time, and how life has changed since “Kuntry Livin” has blown up to the top of the Country music charts.
Rebel Row: You play guitar and sing. At what age did you first start performing?
Travis Tidwell: Well I started playing piano when I was 11 or so and just jammed with my dad a little around then. But on guitar, I was in a metal band when I was 16 and that’s when I was actually performing.
RR: What were the early albums that made you say, “I want to be a rock star and play music for the rest of my life?”
TT: Blizzard of Oz, Diary Of A Madman, the first 2 Yngwie Malmsteen albums, a lot of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder growing up too, but I think the Tribute album to Randy Rhoads, being that it was live, really confirmed what I wanted in a career as a guitarist along with the general love for music. The response that the crowd showed Randy was sincere and you could tell he was vibing off of the love they showed him. And I wanted THAT.
RR: If we took a look at your iPod right now what would we find you listening to at the moment?
TT: You’d find quite a variety of music, that’s for sure. Stevie Wonder, Yngwie Malmsteen, Zac Brown Band, Sonia Leigh, even some Haden Carpenter! I’ve got classical to country to metal on my iPod!
RR: Tell us a little bit about how you hooked up with Big Smo?
TT: Smo found me on YouTube when I was 18. I was working at Pizza Hut at the time, right out of high school. I had been putting up videos of my playing, different genres and my own rendition of covers and such. Also, to get out of working at Pizza Hut on weekends, I played the honky tonk scene with my dad, it also made me learn versatility, which was important for what Smo needed. So after emailing back and forth for a week or so, I agreed to go to Smo’s farm and meet him. We hit it off and that day we recorded the music for Workin’ and Who I’ll Be that both made it on Kuntry Livin’.
RR: What has been your most memorable moment on stage and why?
TT: Well I love when the crowd goes nuts when I go out and do a solo and it’s REALLY awesome when they cheer after the solo, which comes off to me as good feedback! But one time, we were doing Workin’ and right at the end run of the solo, I crouched down to get close to the crowd and my pants split right in the front! Thankfully the guitar covered it..Most of the time ha!
RR: “Kuntry Livin” was just released and debuted at #31 on the Billboard Top 200. Where were you guys when you heard the news and what was the reaction like from everybody?
TT: We were on the bus. We flipped out. I feel like at the time of the news, we were so occupied and busy with the present touring, it kind of caught us off guard. It made me Tak a moment and just realize how amazing this journey has been this far. I can only imagine how in awe Smo really was hearing the news.
RR: A lot of country rappers have been rejected by the mainstream country people in the industry who just don’t understand the country rap movement. What’s the craziest thing or the worst advice you’ve been given by someone in the industry?
TT: Well when I was playing in bands as a teenager, I did a gig in Printer’s Alley in Nashville. A guy who heard me told me to cut my hair and he could make me a star. But I never thought anything of it, and as you can tell, I still have my hair! And fortunately I got to work quickly with making connections and made many amazing friends and mentors in the industry who had faith me so I didn’t get a lot of horrible advice since I had people to go to and ask.
RR: Do you have solo music that you’re working on or aspirations of releasing a solo album in the future?
TT: I do! I’ve had my own music for quite some time, just haven’t released or mastered it yet. But I’m glad that I haven’t put any out yet because I’m constantly learning and maturing musically, as I’m singing now, but I’m getting ready to work soon. And I can’t wait to put something out!
RR: How do you respond to critics that think country rap is just a fad, and that the two shouldn’t mix?
TT: Well you have to respect people’s opinion whether you agree with it or not. But at the same time, there’s obviously a demographic for it, and it’s growing substantially. The songs we’re singing are a way of live. There’s no denying that. We’ve all had day jobs, we’ve all worked hard and still continue to love the company of friends, Kinfoke, and a bonfire. Who wouldn’t? It’s hard to accept new things but give it a chance, if you love it, great! If you don’t, then all we can say is thank you for taking the time out to listen and we do value the feedback.
RR: What do you think about all the attention the scene has received lately and where do you see it heading in 2015?
TT: It’s incredible to see how fast it’s grown. Lots of people said all the things we’re doing, and the album, would never see the light of day. So for Smo to be where he is and for me to be apart of it is amazing. I think 2015 will be a great year for music in general. I guess all I can say is we’ll see!
RR: How has life changed since the Big Smo television series began?
TT: My social media has blown up more than anything. It’s crazy to see myself on TV. Not something I’m used to yet! But all in all, I don’t feel like a lot has changed, probably due to the people I’m surrounded by. My girlfriend Amanda keeps me on the ground, Smo is like a father figure to me so he keeps me in check, and the raising my parents gave me was all about humility, being humble, and caring for others, so to me, all this is just another chapter in my life, but will hopefully lead to a killer read.
RR: Have you been recognized in public yet? What was that experience like?
TT: Yes I have! Several times actually! It’s always very humbling when someone recognizes me and is a feeling that I’ll never take for granted. I actually had a little girl, she was 4 I think, met me when I got home from getting groceries in my driveway with her mother, she knew the lyrics to a lot of the songs on the record, and was also a fan of the TV show. She gave me some flowers and we took a picture. It was great. Moments like that, I’ll never get used to, it was incredible.
RR: What has been your favorite moment from the show so far?
TT: That’s a hard one. It was such a unique experience as a whole. I won’t lie, when I had to dress up in the dress for the Workin’ episode, I had a blast! It was so silly, but fun. That, or the episode where we sold out the EXIT/IN in Nashville were probably my personal favorite moments.
RR: Living on the road isn’t always easy, so give us the dirt on the guys. Who has the worst habits on the road?
TT: Haha! Well, it’s tough being away from your family and the people you love, that’s probably the hardest thing honestly. But we try and eat as healthy as we can because it’s so easy to eat junk on the road out of convenience. But the Worst Habit award will have to go to Haden…for farting. Like I said, we eat fairly healthy. Haden eats REALLY healthy. His healthy farts are the worst!!! Haha! But we love him!
RR: Where can fans get the most up to date info and stay in touch with you
TT: You can always check the latest happenings with me on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/TravisTidwell01, My Twitter: @TravisTidwell01, or follow me on Instagram to get visuals of what I see on the road and in my life! Instagram: @travistidwell01! Hope everyone will make it out to a show at some point, we will love to entertain you!