SEASIDE — Almost 40 years after moving to Seaside, Bruce Smith still meets each day with a sense of bemusement about how he got here.
Smith makes his living playing music, creating what he brands as “Texas Roadhouse Rock” — think a cross between Bruce Springsteen and U2. Since the 1980s he and his colleagues have made six albums and gone on multiple tours throughout the West, even making a pit stop at the famous South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, one year.
This fall, Smith was awarded the Outstanding Texas Roadhouse Rock Artist at the Producers Choice Honors event, a Las Vegas awards show designed to recognize up-and-comers in entertainment, for his contribution to the genre.
While he is a familiar face at many North Coast festivals and functions, Smith has built his career — and much personal glee — upon clandestinely leaving Seaside to play music across the West under the radar.
“I’ve always found humor in it,” Smith said. “Maybe because it doesn’t sound real. I don’t even believe it’s real sometimes.”
Perhaps it feels surreal because of where his story starts. Smith grew up in a family with 10 kids in rural Texas. From a young age, he knew he loved music, writing his first song at 12 and dipping out of church to play guitar with his friend.
Music was part of his family’s soul, with his mom and many of his siblings also playing instruments. But being a rock musician? No, that wasn’t considered a career.
Smith wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but knew he needed to leave to pursue his dreams. In 1977, he first came to Seaside on a mission trip through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and fell in love with the coast.
After his trip ended, life unfolded as it does — he got married and moved around — until the two decided their hearts are in Seaside and moved back permanently in 1980.
Smith bounced around different jobs before deciding to open Bruce Smith Automobiles on a whim. Over the following 25 years, Smith juggled running an auto dealership with his music career, quietly heading out over weekends or for weeks at a time to produce albums, play gigs and go on tour.
“I just felt compelled,” Smith said.
But in 2011, life stalled. Issues between him and his bank forced Smith to close the dealership, he said, as well as sell his home and other property.
“That was my 401(k),” he said.
For the next year, he was in a daze. Eventually, through the encouragement of his wife, he used the major life change to finally make music his sole priority. In 2012, he pulled together a band and made music and works as a sound technician as his full-time career.
The work is steady, but two integral aspects of his life — his religious faith and his music — still quietly conflict. As a member of the LDS church, his choice to pursue rock music has been met with confusion and judgment.
“Making a living doing rock ‘n’ roll just ‘doesn’t fit,’” Smith said.
There also is prejudice in reverse. To avoid friction, he keeps his religion relatively private within the music community.
“My agent of 11 years, when we met … she found out I was LDS and said she wasn’t interested,” he said. “We just talked yesterday, we’re great. But even she carried that prejudice within her.”
But for Smith, walking the cultural tightrope is a small price to pay for the chance to live his dream.
“I feel blessed,” he said. “If you told me as a kid from Texas this would be my life, I’d think it was impossible.”