Alburnett grad Riley Smith carving new niche in 'Nashville'

Eastern Iowan doing double-duty in music, acting on hit TV series

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Even though his Life of Riley band members have dispersed to various jobs at home and abroad, singer/actor Riley Smith still is living the life of Riley on TV.

He’s merging his love of music and acting with a recurring arc on Season 4 of the ABC hit series, “Nashville.”

Recently seen as a vampire on HBO’s “True Blood,” the 1997 Alburnett High School graduate was cast this summer and relocated to Nashville at the end of July, where he’s heating up the screen as rock star Markus Keen. In an instance of art imitating life, his character is making the crossover from rock to country with the help of lead character Rayna Jaymes, played by Connie Britton.

He gets to sing on every episode and will have the most cuts — three — on the new cast album. That high profile placement should be a springboard to more musical opportunities in “Music City.”

“All the writers in the town all want to get cuts on the ‘Nashville’ soundtrack,” Smith, 37, said by phone from Los Angeles, where he was putting together a music studio in his permanent home. “Last year’s soundtrack sold 600,000 albums and 3 million singles, so it went platinum.”

He’s hoping his time in Nashville will elevate his own songwriting abilities.

“I want to write with great writers that I’ve never had the opportunity to write with before,” he said. “If you’re just an actor from L.A. and you go to Nashville and you call these people and say, ‘Hey, I want to write with you,’ they basically hang up the phone in your face.

“But because of the show, I’ve got this special ‘in,’ so I went with the game plan that the minute I got there, I started connecting with music publishers who were setting me up with their writers.”

He soon found himself doing double-duty, writing with industry pros on his days off from the show. He now has more than enough material to make a solo record and will be writing even more when he returns.

“I fell in love with the city, I fell in love with the sound. The people are unbelievable — they remind me of the Midwest,” he said. “I’ve been having a blast. I can’t wait to put this record out because it will be a direct reflection of my time in Nashville — inspired by Nashville and with Nashville co-writers.

“It’s going to be something special. Even when the show’s done, I’m going to have this to show for it and be able to have that forever.”

Smith is still on contract with “Nashville” but is exploring other options and has shot the pilot for a leading role in “Urban Cowboy,” in development for Fox television. If that comes to fruition, he’ll return to his Iowa horse-riding roots.

“I was riding ponies before I could walk,” said Smith, who grew up in rural Marion. He still gets to ride at his father’s place north of Dallas, Texas. His mom now lives in Cedar Rapids, and he has extended family around Toddville, so he’s looking into heading here for the holidays.

“I always come back for Christmas in Iowa,” he said. “It’s always going to be home.”

OTHER EASTERN IOWANS ON TV

Here are some other Eastern Iowans who are making their mark on television:

l Tiana (Brown) Gandelman: The Linn-Mar High School graduate is ► the ◄ associate choreographer for “The Wiz Live!” airing at 7 p.m. Thursday ► Dec. 3 ◄ on NBC. She has danced ► her way around the world ◄ on tours with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and is a creative producer at “The Voice” on NBC.

l Robin Lord Taylor: The Solon alum continues his killer star turn as Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot, better known as the Penguin, the new king of “Gotham.” The series, which looks at the beginning of the Batman saga, airs Mondays on Fox TV.

l Jefferson White: The Mount Vernon native can be seen ► this season ◄ on ABC-TV ◄ ’s “How to Get Away With Murder,” WGN’s “Manhattan,” and was on a recent episode of the CBS series “Elementary.”

l Jesse Henecke: The Cedar Rapids native, who has had roles on “Castle,” “Parenthood” and “Mad Men,” appeared this season on TNT’s “Murder in the First.”

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