Raised in several suburbs of Marin, singer-songwriter Jesse Ray Smith grew up in the shadow of San Francisco’s hippie movement, the rise of Deadheads and the Bay Area-wide musical omnipresence of Bill Graham. So it’s little surprise that a love of songwriting quickly impressed itself upon him.
As early as 10, Smith desired to follow in the footsteps of musical heroes, and after completing college in 2011, Smith took his first major foray into the musical world with the Fairfax-based rock band The Bad Jones, which he formed with guitarist Tommy Odetto, bassist Tim Baker and keyboardist John Varn.
“That band went strong for five years,” says Smith. “Then I had a few opportunities come up and change the course musically for me.”
In 2016, Smith moved to Southern California to take his career to the next level. “It opened my eyes to what I wanted,” he says. “The whole big rock and roll thing wasn’t really my thing anymore.”
Instead, Smith focused on the Americana roots of his childhood favorites, with blues and Grateful Dead-esque flourishes of reverb. Last year, Smith released his debut solo album, Yolanda Station, which he plays from when he returns to Marin for a concert on Saturday, June 22, at Peri’s Silver Dollar in Fairfax.
Possessing a sandy, plaintive voice akin to Bob Seger and leading a full band, Smith’s sound bleeds through generations of Americana, feeling at once classic and contemporary in its melodies and arrangements.
It’s also an emotional open book lyrically, with Smith describing himself as feeling like a prisoner in his own skin at the start of the album’s lead single, “Easy on Me” and digging into old memories on the album’s title track, named for an abandoned train station in San Anselmo.
“I was interested in parts of Marin that I hadn’t ever questioned,” says Smith. “Like, why are there all these abandoned train stations around here?”
The short story is that before the Golden Gate Bridge, trains were the main way folks traveled to Marin from the city.
“It was harkening back to my roots, growing up and hanging out around those stations,” says Smith. “The song wrote itself.”
Though he lives in San Diego currently, Smith maintains ties with the Bay Area, and he‘s looking forward to seeing old friends in Fairfax this weekend when he plays.
“It will be like a family party,” he says. “A hometown hoedown.”