GE Smith is a living rock n' roll legend. He's had a Fender Telecaster sewn into his palm since he was 11 (and can even brag about having his own signature Tele). He's played with David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Roger Waters, and that doesn't even scratch the surface of his decade long career as the musical director at Saturday Night Live. He can talk your ear off about the rich history of folk, the blues, rock and roll...really all music in general. Which is why, every now and then, when we have the opportunity, we jump at capturing G.E. doing exactly what he loves to do alongside some of his pals, who also happen to be some of the most interesting musicians on the planet.
A few years back we paired G.E. up with The Hold Steady's Craig Finn for a one-of-a-kind jam session and conversation on The Bowery. It was an eye-opening encounter between a pair of rare musicians who are grounded, grateful, genuine, and most importantly, down to play a few songs together. It took a little while (G.E. has been a little busying touring the world with The Wall), but we've got a follow-up episode of G.E. Smith's Floating Bridge for you, this time featuring Chad Smith, the rambunctious, rhythmic force who powers iconic, rock titans Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Montauk Long Island - "The End" - is not where you'd expect to find modern rock royalty in January, but Chad has made a cozy home of the place...and he
was kind enough to invite G.E. by to ring in The New Year. What follows is pretty special - an intimate conversation and a unique, classic-rock leaning jam sesh between two absolute legends in their trade. Check out our latest episode of G.E. Smiths Floating Bridge.
me come from similar backgrounds. He's from the Detroit area, and I'm from Pennsylvania, you know where neither one of us came from arts centers, you know? I started playing in local bands in Pennsylvania when I was 11. Bar bands, just playing in bar bands, playing in fraternity parties for years. We're much more like working-class, coming out of that. And we're bar band guys. Chad came up playing in bands, and we both liked heavy stuff, I liked heavy guitar. I got to play with Chad just the other night right there, the little joint we just passed called Stephen Talkhouse here in Amagansett on Long Island. And it was just me and Chad and my bass player Freddy Cash Jr. - Yeah. - Great, great bass player. The three of us just doing a power trio thing, you know? And...so much fun. get together and play sometime and then everybody's got busy schedules, obviously he's busy, I'm busy, but last summer, he said, he just texted me out of the blue and said you know, "If you're out here, maybe we can play. " And I was like, "Great. " I got a bass player and let's go play the Talkhouse, and we played and it was just great. He's so musical and just a sweet guy and yeah I hope to play together more often, because it's a real treat. - Chad is one of the great rock-n-roll drummers. But to me he's right up there with anybody. His groove...you think about all those great Chili Pepper records, it's about Flea and Chad. Now you see all the old timers, when they pull in, they space out. They turn it around. Because you never know when you're gonna have to run. - You know, obviously, any musician is a fan of G. E's, and seeing him on all those Hall and Oates videos and everything, I just knew he was a musician's musician, that he just...he could play with anybody, play any kind of style. Believe me we didn't really talk about it at all, he's just like "We're just gonna talk and maybe play a little bit. " I'm like, "Cool. " It was no planned out anything, very spontaneous and I don't know, he's gonna ask me a few things about me and my music and what I do and how I do it, and I'm gonna ask him about, I wanna know what he does and how he does it. - Yeah! Hey little man. - Well, I started as a young boy at seven. I didn't have the... I was a little late for the whole Ed Sullivan, Beatles moment. - Okay. - But I'm the youngest of three siblings and my brother played guitar, my sister played piano, and so...they kinda took the other instruments in the house. There weren't any drums in the house. No parent says, "Hey Johnny, you wanna take up the drums?" - Right, right. - So I just started hittin' stuff. I don't know why, I just was attracted to rhythm and drumming. And so my first "drum set" was this ice cream cone, Baskin Robbin's ice cream, and the tubs that they scooped ice cream out of. Those were my drums and then I had little Linkin' Log kids building toys and the little wood sticks. So that's what I played, only the finest equipment at the very beginning. - You gotta start somewhere. Who did you play along with? Who did you listen to? What records were you hearing? - Well I grew in, outside of Detroit. - Okay. - And like I said, I had a older brother who was really into Jimmy Hendrix and Cream and... - Had that MC5 record laying around the house somewhere? - Yeah, being in Detroit of course. And you couldn't miss it, and all the Motown stuff of course was on the radio, and it was fantastic in that way to be exposed to that sort of, obviously, great music. - Yeah. - And played in bands with my brother, my first band was called "Rockin' Conspiracy. " Like around '73, very Watergate, very...you know, we were like the Rage Against the Machine of Detroit in the day. We were very political. No, you know, we just, again played Gloria and, you know... - Did you first hear it by them? By Van Morrison's band or by Shadows at Night from Chicago? - Oh, I think by them. I think, I think. It's so long ago... Is there, there's nothing different? - It's not much different, the Shadows...let's play a little. Gonna tell you 'bout my baby You know she comes around Just 'bout five feet-four A-from her head to the ground You know she comes around here At just about midnight She make me feel so good, Lord She make me feel all right And her name is G-L-O-R-I G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria! G-L-O-R-I-A Gloria! - I don't think of myself as a guitar player. When I'm playing with a band, I think of myself, that I'm playing "the band. " I really listen to everybody because to me that's what's so exciting and so joyful. That interplay between people. - What I noticed playing with him, is any good musician, is he's a great listener. He doesn't play too much. He's all about the song and he's just really fun to play with. He has great time, extremely musical, and fun. He just wants to have fun. And that's what I wanna do, when I'm playing music, I want it to be fun. - Now the thing about that song...a lot of guitar players. There's two songs, two of those like crucial broad band songs that a lot of guitar players get wrong. Gloria goes E, E-minor, D, A. But if you listen... Then the other one of course is... The real thing is it's a E-minor, the third chord, not a E-major. And it's not as crucial, almost, as Gloria to the sound of it, but hey, that's the chord. Perfect intro by the way, do that again, so... And you can tell, by the way that Chad knows the right intros and the right outros for those songs that he played in some bars, as did I. - As did you, you cut your teeth in Pennsylvania. - Pennsylvania bars, very much. gigs, you know? That nobody was at or 20 people were at or something, but you learn. For years and years and years I played in bar bands. So with those experiences that both Chad and I have had, when we start playing we just know, you know, we can give each other the tiniest little musical signal, the little nod of the head, and we know what we're talking about. - That Kingsmen, that... - The Kingsmen. - The drums are like... - The drums are great, the guitar solo's great. Okay, so listen there you were, you're in Michigan, you're playing... What got you out to the west coast? - The lovely weather. - Really? Was it really just... - Well it was partly...well, no I have to say really it was... I'd been playing in clubs, I graduated from high school in 1980, started playing professionally like right away, and so for eight years, I'm in a bunch of different kind of bands, you name it, things were going, but then it kind of leveled off or plateaued, I felt, and I was back to playing clubs again, couple sets a night and I was like... "I gotta go somewhere where maybe it's more happening than here. " So my friend, his name's Newt Cole, was also a percussionist from Michigan, came out to L. A, little later than I did, started dating this girl Denise Zoom...try to follow along kids, Denise Zoom who's Billy Zoom from X... - Sister? - Nope. - Wife? - Ex-wife. - Ex-wife, okay. - Ex-wife. Billy Zoom, you know, cool BIlly Zoom. - What a look Billy Zoom had, yeah man. Silver sparkles, it's bad, loved it. And so Denise had dated John Frusciante before dating Newt, and she knew from John that they were looking for a drummer. And Newt, my friend, tells Denise my friend Chad is the guy for the job, he eats drums for breakfast. - There you go. - That's what he told him. So Denise tells John "I got your guy, he eats drums for breakfast. " Unbeknownst to me, and I bring my drums in, and Flea, who's not a tall gentleman, looks up at me and says "So what is that, your breakfast?" I'm like, what? This little guy...breakfast? I didn't know about the "Eat the drums for breakfast" thing, ah-ha-ha. Anyway, so I'm setting up, I'm thinking "These guys are weird, " you know, but, and we just immediately, we sat down, started playing, it was one of those things just like... - What was it like for you as a drummer the first time, to hear Flea? - You know, and this is, you gotta remember, this is...everything at that time was hard and fast, it was ... There was not a lot of... - No, no. - But, so the energy, you know...slappin' and, you know John was 18 and just full of energy, I've never seen anyone break a string and change a string so fast in my life...didn't wanna miss out on the jam. It was like James Brown on speed. And, yeah, we just... "This is great, these guys sound great, " and Anthony wasn't doing, he was laughing in the corner he thought it was all funny. And I guess, I don't know, but I was like, "Come on!" Maybe I don't really remember, but I was like yelling at them like, "Let's go!" You know. And they were like, "You were the first guy that like took, you know, went for it, wasn't kind of..." - Not afraid of that action, yeah. - Not afraid, yeah. Like, "Oh yeah? How about this?" You know, one of those and I was like... - That's what people look for, man, that's what we need. - Yeah you know, they want to be pushed. So anyway, so musically we hit it off right away. Personally they were like, you, I'm not shaving my head. " They're like, "Okay, we respect that man. " So funny, it's like 25 years ago. - So many of the great Chili Pepper songs will start with a very simple little guitar, a quick little intro, not a big statement. Like "Under the Bridge" has a big gorgeous guitar intro, it's like an overture in classical music. It's like this beautiful thing. But a lot of the songs just don't, like a quick little thing, and when you and Flea come in, it's like "Okay, there it is. " The quick little guitar thing is always very hooky, it always catches the ear like, "Oh, what's happening? What's gonna go on?" And then you two guys kick in and it's just, it's magic. - Thank you. - I love listening to the, I love running into the Chili Pepper songs like on the car radio. You know? It's always like "Turn that up!" The first gig we did was Chad and myself and Tony Shannahan who's worked with Adam Smith for years, and we just had so much fun. We rehearsed one day and we did the show the next day. It was so, sort of, seat of the pants, which is what I love. Almost just saying to each other, "Okay, let's do a song that's this kind of music. " We wouldn't necessarily even rehearse the song, we just said, "Let's do this kind, and this kind, and something like this and something like that. " And we just had a ball. - He takes chances, I like musicians that take risks. I mean we sound checked these songs two nights ago and then we played like three or four different ones that we didn't sound check. It's fly by the seat of your pants, and you know it takes balls to be able to do that in front of a crowd, and I like being challenged like that. I think maybe he appreciates that, but he just wants you to like, just go for it. And to me, that's what I wanna see, when I go see musicians I don't like people going through the motions. I'm gonna stand here, I'm gonna play exactly like the record. It's...he's a risk-taker, and so am I and we're kindred spirits like that. - Give It Away, is that Rick? Groovy? The way that he changes the snare drum sound in the chorus... - Yeah, gets a little, gets goosed a little bit and then it dries up on the verses. - Dries up in the verses. He takes that ...ring off it. - Drums are very loud... - Drums are really loud in it, which is great. - I like that. - You like that, when those drums are loud, man. Yeah, you know? - But that's another...you know if we're talking about recording in stairwells and whatever and different places, we did that record in a house as well, in L. A. , and we cut Give It Away because very simple, there's no, couple fills at the end that aren't snare drum, it's just kick... - You guys are just groovin', yeah. - That's it, and he was like...let's put the drums in this...and there was a little room off the kind of main room that we were recording in, it was like a real bright room. It had windows like this, but then it had a real...the floor was tile or something. Pretty bright, maybe dimmed it up a little but I can't remember. But it was four mics, that's it. Brendon O'Brien who's done a lot of great stuff, he was, I think it was his last engineering gig. - So Rick's producing and Brendon's engineering? - That's a good combo right there. And we're like...who's this Brendon guy? "He did the Black Crows and did this..." I said, "Oh, pretty good. " The worst thing, as you know, when you're recording, you wanna get something down...sound guys are like "See!" If you want to play, you want to play and Brendon was fast and so we just... "Let's put the drums over here." "Okay. " And he just put two mics like kind of there, like four feet away. One on the kick and one on the front of the snare, and go. And that's like a pretty good sound. But the room, it was all part of like...it was one of those things that just kind of happened, and... - Music, notes...but then there's something else that you bring. You know, you got the rhythm, you got the harmonic content of...different notes that you play. But there's this intangible human-ness that I think the really great musicians, that's what people see and love. That's what people hear. When I play with Chad, underlying it all is... I mean Chad doesn't come from some big wealthy background. Neither do I. Underlying it all is this thing of... "Aren't we lucky?" You know? "Of all the great players..." and you know the world's full of great guitar players and good drummers, you know. We, somehow, got lucky. We were in the right place at the right time and we're able to make a career out of it. So that's always in there with Chad. We've never talked about it, but I know that that's in there, I know he'd agree with me. I don't want her you can have her She's too fat for me She's too fat for me She's too fat for me I don't want her you can have her She's too fat for me She's too fat, much too fat She's too fat, well When we go dancing in a polka, na na na na
One of the most in demand blues / rock guitarists in the world is a mysterious character who goes by the name of G.E. Smith. Millions of TV viewers know his face-and the shock of unruly blond ponytail that was always falling across it-from his tenure stint of fronting the Saturday Night Live Band.
For G.E. (George Edward) Smith, a soulful guitarist, composer, singer, and bandleader, it all began in rural Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where he was just about born with a guitar in his hand. I started playing around the age of four, and started getting good at seven, he says. Eventually, the girlfriend of one of my Uncles bought me a Martin, a real good guitar, in 1959. Then when folk the music scene came around and Bob Dylan was first performing, I got really into that. By chance he was attending a taping of the television show 'Hootenanny in Princeton, New Jersey, and saw the legendary Odetta and Josh White perform, further inciting his musicality.
On his 11th birthday, G.E.s mother bought him his first electric guitar, a Fender Telecaster, a model that dated his birth year-1952. (I still have that guitar, and theres no sound that I cant find in it.) By then he was supporting himself as a musician, and playing in numerous situations--Poconos resorts, high school dances, you name it--often with musicians more than twice his age.
After accomplishing all he could in the bar-band scene as a teenager, Smith left the Poconos to conquer the Connecticut. He quickly established himself as a top gun guitarist and hooked up with the legendary Scratch band, which scorched clubs up and down the East Coast during the mid-70s.
In late 1977, G.E. got his first break in the form of Dan Hartman, fresh off his hit Instant Replay. Dan hired G.E. to front his band for a lip-synch tour of Europe and the U.S. Upon his return to the East Coast, Smith moved to Manhattan and became the guitarist for Gilda Radners 1979 Broadway show Gilda Live. Radner and Smith became an item and shortly after married.
During that period of Smiths life another break took place when the blue-eyed soulsters Daryl Hall and John Oates came calling. Not only was Smith hired to play lead guitar for Hall and Oates, he stayed for six years (1979-1985) constantly touring and recording with them, racking up hit after hit with songs like Private Eyes, Man Eater, Kiss on My List, and others. It was insanely fun, he recalls. We were so big that one year we decided it would be fun to perform during summer --all year round! We toured the northern hemisphere in the summer and the southern hemisphere in the during Americas winter.
Another fortuitous event was the Live Aid and Farm Aid beneift concerts in early 85. I ended up being the house band backing Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and whoever didn't have a band.
G.E.'s hard work earned him a commanding position in the music industry as a first call blues/rock guitarist, sought out by major recording artists like Jagger, who, shortly after Live Aid, called Smith to work with him on his first solo album, She's the Boss. (Smith also played on Jagger's Primitive Cool.) During this period Smith also did a few one-off recordings and concerts with David Bowie, and Peter Wolfe, among other notables.
When Hall & Oates decided to take a long break from the music scene, Smith was chosen to be musical director for Saturday Night Live. "The way it happened was, I knew Howard Shore, the show's original musical director, and producer Lorne Michaels, from my stint with Gilda," says Smith. "In '85, when Lorne returned to produce the show again, he asked me to be the musical director. And I was thrilled to take it."
Leading the SNL band for 10 years (1985 - 1995) - it was arguably the best late-night band on television at the time - and G.E. won an Emmy. "I definitely grew a lot from playing with those world-class musicians, especially the horn section. I really had to learn to play in time and in tune. It was a great education."
The SNL roster of guest musicians read like a Who's Who of contemporary music: Eddie Van Halen, Keith Richards, Rickie Lee Jones, Al Green, Bryan Ferry, et al. In fact, many of the best musical (surprise) moments came when G.E. invited guitar heroes to play with the band, unannounced. Eddie Van Halen was the first, followed by an amazing roster that included David Gilmour, Lonnie Mack, Dave Edmonds, Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy, and others. The Buddy Guy visit eventually resulted in the GEs 1996 Grammy-nominated Buddy Guy - Live CD, with G.E. and the SNL band. "I've been so lucky to get into these fantasy situations... that happened over and over on "SNL". I got to play with everybody . "
SNL also provided Smith with a songwriting opportunity when Mike Myers asked him to help write a tune. "Mike had this bit, called Wayne's World, and he needed a theme song. Aerosmith was the musical guest that week, so Mike and I sat down and wrote a song that Aerosmith could sing and play along with." Of course the "bit" became a hit film, the soundtrack (and song) a platinum-selling smash hit.
Even more amazing, in the midst of his SNL tenure Smith toured for almost four years with the legendary Bob Dylan. "I would fly home from various places on the globe to do the SNL show," says G.E. "Both Bob and Lorne were very understanding about giving me the time that I needed. I would work with Bob during the week, then come home for Saturday's show." This setup was a true test of his stamina. "During one particularly tough period, I played a stadium concert in Sao Paulo, Brazil, flew back to New York for SNL, then flew to Rio to play several concerts with Bob, flew back that Saturday, then flew to London for a week of concerts with Bob, came back to New York, then met the band for concerts in Paris."
During his SNL years Smith was also honored to be the musical director for special events such as the 1988 Emmy Awards, the 1993 Rhythm and Blues Foundation Awards and the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert at Madison Square Garden. The latter event was another of those "fantasy situations" that G.E. keeps getting involved in. "The rehearsals for that Dylan concert you wouldn't believe. I was rehearsing with George Harrison in the morning, Eric Clapton in the afternoon, and Lou Reed at night. One afternoon, rehearsing the finale, I had Harrison, Tom Petty, Clapton, Neil Young, Dylan and Roger McGuinn all lined up and I'm saying, 'OK, George you sing here, Eric you play now, Bob you come in here. Smith also has written with his friend and fellow musician Jimmy Buffett. "Six String Music" appears on Buffett's album Fruitcakes.
Smith acted as musical director at the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame Museum Concert in Cleveland.
Following his departure from Saturday Night Live in 95', Smith and his wife, singer/songwriter Taylor Barton created a critically acclaimed boutique label called Green Mirror Music. They are in their ninth year, releasing rootsy blues, neo-pop.
Smith released his electrifying, high octane CD, 'Incense Herbs, and Oils' in 1998. Between live dates, he has been the musical director and band leader honoring Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson , and Chuck Berry at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. . He also led bands for The Muddy Waters Tribute, and The Mark Twain Awards honoring Richard Pryor, Jonathon Winters, Carl Reiner and most recently Lorne Michaels. Smith has kept a steady presence on the national scene. Is he too busy? Smith laughs and says, "I haven't slept since the sixties."
Another highlight of Smith's history was hosting an interactive show on the Electric guitar over the internet, on NPR, and a live presentation at for Smithsonian Institute.
1999-2000 brought Smith back to SNL, appearing in the 25th Anniversary show and other guest appearances. He was featured on VH1 in the history of SNL, and even hosted the New Year's Eve bash inaugurating the new Rose Center at the Museum of Natural History, (formerly the Haydn Planetarium).
GE celebrated the NBC's 75th Anniversary Show, and continues to teach to his guitar workshops at Jorma Kaukonen's Fur Peace Ranch.
2005, catapults a new major label CD /DVD, titled 50Watt Fuse Out NOW! GE is also very proud to announce that Fender will introduced The GE Smith signature Telecaster to its line.
Currently, GE is raising the stakes for the Cleveland Browns where he heads up the team with music as a new bandleader for the fans. Catch Smith on all the NFL Browns home games.
Smith has played with the broadest possible spectrum of artists, from Red Buttons to Allen Ginsberg, from Desmond Child to Bob Dylan and all points in between. Ive had an incredible ride in the world of Rock N' Roll and American music," says Smith, looking back over his career. GE Smith is one of the most brilliant guitarist's out there.