Toadlena record label act captures NAMMY award

Mike Easterling
Frank Smith's Chieftain Track Records, based in Toadlena, recently earned its second Native American Music Award as Desert West won in the category of Best Country Recording.

FARMINGTON — For the second time, a Toadlena-based record company that specializes in Navajo artists has had one of its recordings capture a Native American Music Awards title.

Chieftain Track Records, owned and operated by the father-and-son team of Frank and Tritt Smith, released the disc “Reservation Girl” by the band Desert West last year. The album was nominated for Best Country Recording in the NAMMYs, the Native equivalent of the Grammys, and the recording was named the winner during the awards ceremony at the Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino Event Center in Salamanca, N.Y., on Sept. 17.

Frank Smith said he was alerted to that fact that night by Tyra Preston, an Albuquerque-area singer who also is one of the label’s artists and whose disc “Acoustic Sessions” also was nominated for Best Country Recording.

“I didn’t really believe it at first,” Smith said, laughing and explaining the award was confirmed on the following Monday when the winners were posted on the Native American Music Awards website.

The win was especially meaningful to Tritt Smith, who doubles as Desert West's lead guitarist and who writes much of its material.

“I was amazed by it,” he said. “I was speechless.”

Desert West is a local quartet made up of lead singer Allan George, bassist Kyle Hathley, drummer Paul Hathley and Tritt Smith. The band has been on hiatus since 2012, when it recorded the tracks for “Reservation Girl” that wouldn’t be released by Chieftain Track Records until last year.

The disc includes 10 songs — two written by Tritt Smith and George, and two written by Travis Friday of the Stateline band, an Arizona-based Navajo country group. The other songs on the disc are covers, including John Fogerty’s “Moody River,” Alan Jackson’s “Right in the Palm of Your Hand” and Waylon Jennings’ “High Time (You Quit Your Low Down Ways).”

Frank Smith said last week that he had spoken to George about the group’s NAMMY awards, and he said the lead vocalist was ecstatic about it. Tritt Smith said he is hopeful the NAMMY victory provides the members of the band with the motivation to get back together and begin performing again.

Chieftain Track Records has had several of its albums earn NAMMY nominations since it was founded in 2007, but the label’s only other victory came in 2009 when Gilbert Begay Sr. won for his effort “Traditional Navajo Shoe Songs.”

Frank Smith said he is hopeful the momentum and notoriety the label earns from its latest NAMMY award inspires other artists in the area to approach him about recording for Chieftain Track. He said the label will release a gospel album soon, as well as a disc of Christmas tunes by Preston, and it already has plans to release seven recordings next year.

He also wants to throw a 10th anniversary party for the label when the holidays are over and plans to invite all those who have recorded for Chieftain Track over the years to perform.

“To me, it’s like we’re just getting started,” he said. “We’ve been nominated (for NAMMY awards) almost every year. I think this shows you don’t have to have big-money company to do these things. You just have to do it right.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.