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Show Review

G. E. Smith is a living rock n' roll legend. He's had a Fender Telecaster sewn into his palm since he was 11 (he now has his own Telecaster model). "One of my great pleasures in life is to play with a lot of people who write good songs," Smith mentions while shootin' the musical shit with The Hold Steady's Craig Finn. He's talking about Finn, during the session the two played through a few tracks from Finn's then new record Clear Heart Full Eyes, but 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 of SNL.

Then there's Craig Finn, lead singer of The Hold Steady. A guitarist in his own right, and a really good singer/songwriter. Finn has an extremely identifiable, strangely comforting, almost partied out husk to his voice. He refers to it as "that talking singing thing I do," and it scores his mad rad imagery to a tee. Finn's got a talent for exposing the modern American odyssey, the adventures of no one too special are translated into a comic strip of epic poetry.

So kids, throwback thursday gets a twist today with some unreleased content. #TBT to 2012, and our one of kind Floating Bridge Session with G. E. Smith and Craig Finn. Finn and Smith are a rare pair, grounded, grateful, and genuine, but mostly just down to play some good music together. Smith talks the differences between playing through The Wall with Waters versus the freeform experience of playing live with Dylan, and Finn trips back through the conception of The Hold Steady, and his thoughts on Jesus.

Watch the full cut of our exclusive session with Craig Finn and G. E. Smith here, and watch the official cut of the full length interview; they discuss process, collaboration, and just playing together.

Then there's Craig Finn, lead singer of The Hold Steady. A guitarist in his own right, and a really good fucking singer/songwriter. Finn has an extremely identifiable, strangely comforting, almost partied out husk to his voice. He refers to it as "that talking singing thing I do," and it scores his mad rad imagery to a tee. Finn's got a talent for exposing the modern American odyssey, the adventures of no one too special are translated into a comic strip of epic poetry.

So kids, throwback thursday gets a twist today with some unreleased content. #TBT to 2012, and our one of kind Floating Bridge Session with G. E. Smith and Craig Finn. Finn and Smith are a rare pair, grounded, grateful, and genuine, but mostly just down to play some good music together. Smith talks the differences between playing through The Wall with Waters versus the freeform experience of playing live with Dylan, and Finn trips back through the conception of The Hold Steady, and his thoughts on Jesus.

Watch the full cut of our exclusive session with Craig Finn and G. E. Smith here, and watch the official cut of the full length interview; they discuss process, collaboration, and just fuckin' playing together.

Transcript

- Floating bridge, where I first heard the term was from a Sleepy John Estes song called "Floating Bridge.
" He was talking about getting caught in a flood but what we're doing I think that the floating bridge is a bridge between different kinds of music and different kinds of people.
- When I was four years old, I went down in the basement with my mother.
She was doing the laundry and there was a guitar hanging on the wall.
I didn't know what it was down in the basement.
I said, "What's that?" She said, "That's a guitar that used to belong to your Uncle George," and I said, "Can I have it?" She said, "Yeah sure, it's been down here for a long time" and she gave it to me and I was gone.
That was that and I smacked on the low E string.
I just laid it on the ground in front of me and I smacked that low E string and I watched it vibrating and I just got it.
I went, "Oh, the vibration makes the sound," and not to get too Ohm Shanthi about it but it was like "Oh, the big note.
" I used to have this dream about a giant guitar string out in space just vibrating.
I had that dream for 30 years off and on.
I was born in January 1952.
I don't think there's a more perfect time for a guitar player in a America, a white guitar player in America to have been born.
I was 17 in 1969.
I went to Woodstock.
It was like I was exactly the right age for this thing that blossomed into the gigantic thing it is now.
When I was a little kid in Pennsylvania, there was no other guitar players.
It took me years to find another person that played guitar.
I'm still excited.
I've been out on the road with Roger Waters for a couple of years now doing "The Wall.
" We just got back from about three and a half months in Australia, New Zealand and South America and I'm still excited on show days.
I'm still like "All right there's a show tonight.
Let's go.
Let's do it.
" It's who I am.
She seemed a little speedy and her tongue worked at her teeth.
The sirens came behind us.
It was a bit before we heard it.
- We are on Carmine Street in New York City, Carmine Street Guitars.
My good friend Rick Kelly makes really great guitars back here.
I have two of his guitars a regular guitar and a bass that I've been using with Roger Waters since I started playing "The Wall" with him almost two years ago now and they're made out of this fantastic, old pine wood that you see over here against the wall.
It comes from buildings here in New York City.
Is to see their #6 Bedford Street, Chumly's the old speakeasy bar on Bedford, 165 Bowery, the Chelsea Hotel.
You can't get more New York.
So for me a guy that's lived in New York for a long, long time now.
It makes me happy to play these great guitars.
It's old pine wood.
It's been up in these roof beams for 100, 150, almost 200 years some of them.
It's all dried out.
The resin is all dried out and the sound of it, the resonance of the instruments is fantastic.
Personally, I was always a Fender Telecaster guy and still am.
My mom bought me a Telecaster when I was just a little kid.
I always say I traveled that Telecaster all around the world, flew it around like an airplane.
I'm still kind of Fender actually made to my amazement and great honor they made a GE Smith model Telecaster that they still make and I'll run into people that say they bought one and they're enjoying it.
So that always makes me feel good.
With Bob Dylan, when I was lucky enough to play with him for a few years.
He would just call songs in the middle of the set just play things that we'd never heard before and you just have to follow it and that to me is very exciting.
It was very fulfilling when you catch it in those kind of situations.
When you really catch it in front of a whole bunch of people.
It's really something.
Don't do this so much with Roger because with Roger we perform "The Wall," and it's this piece he wrote, this long piece and it's a production and we sort of follow a template.
Over the course now, we've done 150 some shows.
Over the course of that to still find the power and the energy in the music because it's there.
If we as a band can access it.
I've been playing the guitar for a long, long time over 50 years now I've been playing the guitar and I always liked all kinds of music.
I ain't much on opera but other than that I like everything and I came up through the bars.
I came up playing for many years in bars and what you had to do there was learn the popular songs of the day.
So I learned all kinds of styles and tried to always find the good things.
Now we did this little piece with Craig Finn and Hold Steady.
Couple years ago I was in my car and I heard a song that's called "First Night" and I thought this is a great song.
So I went on iTunes and I bought it.
It's just a great song and he writes really good songs.
That's what gets me excited now.
All 12 apostles can't be seen from the shore.
All 12 apostles can't be seen from the shore.
Some hide behind the others.
There's always people taking pictures.
All 12 apostles were convinced that they were walking with their savior.
- Good to see you, man.
- Good to see you.
Thanks for having me.
- Well, absolutely.
Now you've got a solo record out.
- And it's the first time I've ever done a solo record.
Made it this past summer in Austin, Texas, and it's a little different.
It's a little different than what I do in the Hold Steady.
It's a little quieter maybe, a little more narrative but I'm really excited about it.
I guess the Hold Steady I feel like is like really a celebratory thing oftentimes and this is maybe coming from a different part of my human being where I feel like there's a lot of sort of this kind of community and optimism and stuff that goes along with the Hold Steady performance, where I feel like that some of the time but this record allowed me to kind of explore a different part.
- Nice.
- "Clear Heart Full Eyes" is the name of the record and it comes from the television show sort of.
On "Friday Night Lights" when the football team would take the field they'd say, "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.
" So I was kind of playing with those words and I changed them.
I always liked that part but that show took place in Texas so there's sort of a Texas nod and also with clear and full it's C and F like my initials when I was changing it around but the other thing was I just thought kind of clear heart meaning transparency, honesty, openness and full eyes meaning having experience and having seen things and maintaining a positivity, and optimism and hope even with age and ongoing experiences.
That's kind of what the album title means to me.
- Okay.
Yeah so how did you wind up doing the record in Austin? - The guy who-- - The food's good.
- Yeah.
The food's good.
The weather is not go great in July.
I worked with this guy Mike McCarthy who produced the record.
I sent him like a really basic track.
I mean like guitar vocals, just garage band in front of the laptop and he was like you have to put together the band.
So he put together his guys, which I met them.
I went down there for like five days.
We talked about what we're hearing on the songs.
Then the band came over on a Monday morning.
I shook everyone's hand, met 'em for them first time.
By Friday night we had 14 songs tracked and I sang the vocals live, which was cool.
That was like the first time I've done a lot of keepers singing live and Mike kind of took the lead and got the people and I really liked the speed of Austin and going out and singing music.
It was real fun.
- The one song that I played with him called "Western Pier," even after we did that session I listened to that song every day for a couple of weeks.
That song really got me and it's a very simple, musically and harmonically, it's a very simple song but he's saying something and there's something coming out of his heart there that really got me.
So I don't know how people do it but I'm glad it still happens.
The just judge looked me over, said "I'm sorry.
You don't have to keep running but you best be leaving.
" You can't take away all the parts of you that make you do the things you do.
The girl that lives inside my heart keeps coming up the boulevard.
They roll up.
they pledge their love and then they drive you halfway to a breakdown.
The just judge looked me over, said "I'm sorry.
" - What I like about the record is that he is such a good songwriter and so you strip it down it's all about the songs.
It's all about the lyrics.
It's about the songs and he certainly can write simple words but the images and the story's really strong.
I'm really impressed with him.
I'm looking forward to it.
- You have a unique voice, just the vocal, the sound of your voice.
Who are your influences as a vocalist? - There's this talking thing I do that's kind of halfway between talking and singing and that's a Lou Reed kind of thing a little bit but certainly Springsteen is big sort of in his phrasing and all that, which gets back to Dylan too.
Those are-- - Now that you say that I can hear it, yeah.
How did Hold Steady come about? - Hold Steady, I was in-- - You come from Minnesota, and you wind up in Brooklyn? - I was in a band in Minnesota called Lifter Puller and we were successful locally.
We were trying to get out of town.
We just couldn't kind of get that next thing so we got kind of frustrated.
Everyone kind of wanted to get out of Minneapolis a little bit try something new.
So I moved to New York and I was 30 or 29.
So I kind of thought that I was going to do something else.
I just worked in an office for two years and I went out one night and I saw the Drive-By Truckers.
They looked like they were having so much fun.
I said, "I want to be in a rock and roll band again.
That was like too much fun.
I'm missing out.
" So Tad, who was in Lifter Puller, had moved to L.
A.
but then he moved to New York and that was kind of right at the right time and I was like let's get the band together but we were really unambitious well at first we were having these arguments whether we were going to A) play shows or record.
For a while, we were just going to get together and drink beer and play music.
We thought that's the most fun.
We played a show and then we played about 10,000 of them so somehow we went from not going to do anything to putting out five records in seven years and spending most of the year on the road but it's been a great run.
I mean I feel really blessed to start something at like 31, 32 years old and have it kind of this sort of second chapter and be able to play music for a living and see the world and-- - Yeah.
- It's really been fantastic though.
- I love the verse in "New Friend Jesus" what do you say? Like drove him in the car and he sold you his guitar.
- Yeah, "Drove it all afternoon, sold me his guitar.
" - Yeah.
- I was thinking about that.
- What could be cooler than buying Jesus's guitar? I want it and can I get it from you? Will you sell it to me? - When you're in high school and like your friend gets a new friend and he's always talking about his new friend.
You're like "Oh, this guy.
" Well what if that guy was Jesus? That was the idea of that song.
Got a new friend and my new friend's name is Jesus.
Got a new friend and my new friend's name is Jesus.
Got a new friend and my new friend's name is Jesus.
Got a new friend and my new friend's name is Jesus.
- Well one of my great pleasures in my life has been to play with a lot of people that write good songs.
I've just been lucky and gotten to do that.
I like to play with good singers and I really like that thing of barely knowing the song or in some cases not knowing it all.
- Well I mean like you talk about Dylan like there's some of those great recordings where you know Rick Danko hasn't heard the song yet.
The key always is just-- - Yeah.
- But it's so good.
I mean like the basement tape stuff is so, like I said when we were playing, if you're kind of rooting for it to all hold together there's this extra drama in the song.
Come on, come on, come on.
I love music like that.
I love listening to those kind of recordings where things are loose.
That's something with the solo record I had a lot of fun doing like with the Hold Steady we probably are a little more rehearsed.
These songs kind of have very simple structures so you can kind of get out there a little bit.
- Yeah.
Somebody recently has convinced me of this thing that it's a language, like Spanish or English or anything else and there's only 12 words.
Right because there's only 12 notes in music right but you can bend strings but basically there's 12 notes so the communication if I'm listening and you're listening and it's going back and forth that's a nice thing when it happens.
I felt particularly on that song.
- When you play with Dylan is there stuff he does to kind of keep that sort of thing? - I had always been a huge fan of Dylan and of all the guys that had played guitar with him, like Robbie Robertson.
- Sure.
- Mike Bloomfield.
They were like some of my guitar heroes.
So when I got the gig and I heard I'm going to get to play with Bob I got out all the books and was looking at the pictures and I noticed that in almost every single picture both Robbie and Mike were standing stage right looking at Bob's hands.
I went, "Oh, that's, so that's what I'll do too" and you just follow, because he's one of those guys that just... like the old blues guys, like Muddy Waters knew where those guys were going to go.
- Right.
- You look at the live stuff of them but to me that's one of the great exciting things about rock and roll, whatever this music is that we play, whatever you want to call it is that seat of the pants thing is the great stuff.
- Yeah.
That's kind of what I was talking about, like this is what we call the snowflake.
The snowflake jams, every snowflake's supposed to be different.
So there's just one song a set that you're just not going to see elsewhere.
It could be a cover.
Could be a really obscure B side.
Usually something we learn at sound check.
You know how sometimes they kind of fall apart but the person at that show won't see that tomorrow night or the night before.
- That's great stuff.
- You learn it at sound check and man it's not like we nailed it but we're going to give it a try.
'Cuz we got like 20 other songs we're playing in the set that went pretty well and this one we'll see what happens.
- And you know what? The music police are not coming.
They're busy at the opera.
They don't care about us.
- Yeah right.
Right.
- So what? So what you made a mistake.
- I mean if a rock and roll man has to stop in the middle of the song it's probably going to get more cheers than-- - Yeah, right.
- That's fun.
- Now one thing that I noticed about the album Jesus turns up in quite a few of the songs.
Is that anything that you want to talk about? - I was raised a Catholic and I sort of have some version of Catholicism in my head, which I say the Pope wouldn't be too keen on but I do go to church sometimes but I think what's interesting about Jesus and the Catholic church all of it to me is the things like forgiveness and redemption, which are two really beautiful concepts, and that's kind of why I keep coming back.
Also, when I think about struggle not necessarily carrying the cross but going on tour, going on a long tour doing whatever you do that's not your favorite part of your day.
That's kind of where... - Going to work at the factory, right? - Yeah.
Where I go about sacrifice and struggle kind of brings me back to sort of the church.
I think people are sometimes surprised because I think Jesus comes in my songs as not flipping the bird at him.
It's an honest thing and I think that catches people off guard at some times but it's maybe more on the solo record than the Hold Steady record, because I feel like I can put more of it in there.
- Thank you so much, man.
- Yeah.
Thank you.
- It's pleasure talking to you.
A pleasure playing with you.
- Super.
Yeah, it was great.
- All right.
- That was awesome.
- You know that one? - I don't.
- From camp when you were a little kid.
What a friend we have in Jesus.
- Oh, I know this one.
All our troubles for to bear.
I forget this particular lyric but then you take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are there troubles and tribulations, something like that.
Is there trouble anywhere?

Artist Bio

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.

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GE Smith

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