Stuart Smith - Return of the Guitar Hero
This months artist of the month has come onto the scene to be a savior to all who crave music by musicians, who want their music to have a bit more substance than a few power chords, and depressing lyrics. In other words a Guitar Hero.
Let me introduce Stuart Smith, a man that should need no introduction in the near future. Stuart is one of the rare breed these days, he's had a life long love affair with the guitar and with every note he plays, he helps us to understand where that affinity for the six stringed instrument came from. Sit back, grab a beer and forget that the 90's ever happened and I will take you on a journey to a land where the guitar once again reigns supreme, where music is made by musicians, songs are written with melody in mind not demographics. Welcome to a land of Heaven and Earth.
Stuart began classical training on guitar at the age of seven. In three short years his instructor had the perplexing dilemma of trying to teach guitar to a youngster who had grown to know more about the instrument than himself. Raised in York, England, Stuart dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot like his father. That dream was smashed by color blindness. So at the age of seventeen Stuart decided to follow his true calling in life, music.
He moved to Harpendon where he formed the
band Sidewinder. It was with this band that Stuart developed his craft,
playing the blues based rock guitar that had inspired him. The guitar styling
of Beck, Page, and
Lucky fans got to catch Stuart in his early days with Sidewinder as they toured Europe opening for bands like Whitesnake, AC/DC, Motorhead, T. Rex, and Status Quo.
From there, Stuart's career reads like a who's who of rock. He played with Bruce Dickenson before the screaming vocalist joined Iron Maiden, as well as having a brief project with Ian Paice. Rocky Newton, Joe Lynn Turner, Paul Rodgers, Glenn Hughes and Paul Shortino are just a few of the people Stuart has worked with.
No other relationship, however, would have as much of an impact on Stuart than his friendship with Legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. To this day Start still considers Ritchie his best friend. In the early days of that friendship Ritchie helped Stuart perfect his playing and even joined him on stage on occasion.
Stuart left England for the U.S. in the early 80's hoping to find a more receptive audience for his brand of blues, rock and classical guitar. He joined up with the ill fated Sweet reunion for a while. But he longed to play his own music so he formed his own band called Midnight.
With Midnight, Stuart worked hard at creating great music, not just showcasing his guitar solos. The band gained a name for itself on the club circuit of Los Angeles in the late 80's and early 90's. Stuart sought out musicians with his same dream. Over it's life span, Midnight, featured Kelly Hansen of Hurricane, Rocky Newton of MSG and Joe Lynn Turner of Rainbow/Deep Purple fame. Stuart was not content to follow the latest trends. As a result, though critically acclaimed, Midnight never landed the big record deal. But it did form the nucleus of what would become the Heaven and Earth band.
In 1996 Stuart teamed up with Keith Emerson and formed Aliens of Extraordinary Abilities. The name came from the classification given to Keith and Stuart on their Green Cards, so it stuck. Robbie Wykoff on vocals, Richie Onori on Bass and Marvin Sperling rounded out the group. Aliens went on to play a few high profile gigs before Keith left to join the ELP reunion tour. But the seeds were sown, so we may someday see this dynamic group work together in the future.
Inspired and invigorated by the Aliens project Stuart rededicated himself to the Heaven and Earth project. As fate would have it some executives from Samsung had taken an interest in Stuart and offered him a deal for a solo album.
Stuart took the opportunity to ask some of his friends in the industry to contribute to the album. He didn't need to ask twice, he lined up an impressive roster for the tracks that would become the Heaven and Earth album.
Rainbow/Deep Purple vocalist Joe Lynn Turner lent his legendary pips to the recording. Kelly Hansen applied his patented vocal stylings as well. In a surprising move Stuart asked his brother in law Richie Sambora to sing on the album as well. (Stuart is married to Heather Locklear's sister). Richie loved the idea of singing, he has always been approached to play guitar on projects of this kind and welcomed the opportunity to do something different.
Other notable appearances on the album include Glenn Hughes, Carmine Appice, Pat Regan and Howard Leese. The culmination of all this talent on one record created a powerful expression in music. Stuart knew he needed a world class producer for the project so he drafted Pat Regan to the task. Regan used his legendary skills and helped create a cohesive exploration into the world of rock, blues, hard rock and classical music.
Heaven and Earth has taken the underground AOR scene by storm. Praised by critics and fans alike the European release of the album has been a big hit, currently in it's third pressing with no sign of letting up.
Although a large success in Europe and Japan, American fans still have to buy the album as an import because the U.S. record industry is too busy filling the airwaves with trendy acts like Limp Bizkit and the Backstreet Boys. There is hope that one of them will see the genius at work here and release the album domestically. Never the less, Stuart stays committed to his craft. While Heaven and Earth inspires a new generation to discover the guitar as more that a instrument of power chords, Stuart is hard at work playing live shows in support of the album and writing music for the follow up record.
Stuart's story is one that can only happen
in Rock n Roll. There just isn't enough space in this feature to cover
this mans journey from the classically school trained boy to the exalted
status as one of today's guitar hero's. You better believe we have not
heard the last from Stuart. The Journey through Heaven and Earth has just
First off, Happy Holidays and thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Instead of just asking all the standard interview questions I thought I would also ask some of your fans what they would like to know. Wendy, who runs the Stuart Smith Mailing list was big help by asking fans to send me their questions for you.
Stuart Smith: Thanks (antiGUY), Happy Holidays to you too.
antiGUY: Lets get started. One of the things that really impressed me with your album, Heaven and Earth was the production. It appears that the songs were recorded in such a way that they would translate well into your live performances. Was there a conscience effort to have a live feel to the songs?
S.S. There was and there wasn't. As you know there a lot of different styles I play and I wanted to incorporate them all on the album. We didn't go too crazy with the overdubs as I wanted to be able to recreate the sound live, but a lot of credit should go to Pat Regan who mixed the album and helped decide the running order which makes it all flow together.
aG: I've read in other interviews that you were talking to a few labels here in the states. Are you any closer to deal? Can we expect a domestic release on a US label in 2000?
SS: I hope so. It's crazy, the album hasn't had a bad review yet and it's gone to the third pressing in Europe but I can't seem to get a States based record company to commit to licensing it. They tend to follow the trends out here and go for the type of band that's flavor of the month as opposed to anything they have to put any effort into developing even though there's getting to be a market for it again. Still, I live in hope that we'll start to see some music with a bit more substance in 2000.
aG: Do you think you do your best playing in the studio or live in front of an audience?
SS: Definitely live. Working in the studio is a bit like root canal work to me. By the time you've cut the basic tracks and start overdubs you've heard the same songs about a million times. When I play live, I never consciously think about what I'm doing so it makes it all the more exciting.
aG: I had also read that you decided to leave England in the early 80's because punk so dominated the scene that musicians who weren't into that scene didn't have a chance. Did you find it ironic to return to England for the God's Festival to see that England had come back around and now offers a lot of support for AOR artist?
SS: It was a bit ironic. When I left England the Rock scene was dead so it's funny to see it happening the there way round now. The trouble is the record companies and radio stations out here are only really interested in bands that were big in the 70's and 80's so although rock is starting to get airplay again, it's still the same old stuff which is a shame as there's a lot of bands out there that are making some good music. Consequently, a lot of people out here don't even know the existence of the bands like Ten and Bob Catley that were at The Gods festival.
aG: I know you answered this one before, but for the benefit of people discovering you for the first time here, how did you manage to get so many legendary musicians to appear on your album?
SS: Well, it's kind of a long story, but basically I know quite a few of the criminal element in Los Angeles so when it came time to do the album, I made a list of who I wanted to be on it, then sent some rather large boys round to inform them. You know it's amazing, not one of them turned me down.
No seriously. Most of the people that lent their talents to making Heaven & Earth I'd worked with in some capacity before or just knew them as friends and asked them to do it. Once I had people like Richie Sambora and Joe Lynn Turner committed it was kind of like a Domino effect, people wanted to be involved.
aG: Are there any plans to record something with Ritchie Blackmore in the Future?
SS: I would love to have Ritchie play a track on the next album. I'll have to see how his schedule is. That was a bit of a problem on the last album as a lot of people I wanted to guest on it were on tour at the time.
aG: What advise would you give a guitarist just starting out who wants to play guitar driven rock in an age were Rap Metal bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit Reign Supreme?
SS: I would
advise anyone starting in out in the music field to get proper lessons
for a while before setting out. You've got to learn the rules before
you can break them. In my opinion, these guys you mentioned are not
relying on any real talent so they'll be gone as quick as they came.
aG:Was their ever any temptation to sell out? Just to play "what's hot" today to get a deal and to "make it"? What made you stick to your guns?
SS: No, Never. I play music the guitar for the love of it, it never really mattered, and still doesn't, to me either I made it or not as long as I was playing what I loved. That would be the other bit of advise I'd give anyone starting out. Play what's in your heart.
aG: I was most impressed by the fact that with Heaven and Earth the music really does hit upon several different styles of music. Can we expect you to further explore different genres of music with the next album?
SS: I expect so. I was originally Classically trained so I enjoy playing Classical as well as Rock and Blues so I expect there'll be a mixture. That's my style, not to stay with one style.
aG: When will you be going on tour and who will be in the band?
SS: The Band I've been out and touring with already includes Kelly Hansen on Vocals, Richie Onori on Drums, Ray Rodriguez on Keyboards and Bjorn Englen on Bass. I would like to get out and tour a bit on this album but we may have to get another album out there first to get the interest up.
aG: Can we expect to hear any old Sweet or Hurricane songs at the shows? (I'd like to request Fox on the Run, and Over the Edge".)
SS: You never know. For some reason, Kelly's a bit reticent to do any old Hurricane material which is a shame as they had a couple of songs I'd enjoy playing live but maybe I'll have to beat him around a bit before we go out to make him see things my way.
aG:Now on the fan questions. Wendy asks, "When can we expect another great album from you?"
Frontiers Records who released my album in Europe want me to get down to
recording another one as soon as the new year begins. Personally,
as I've said, I'd like to tour a bit on this one first but I can see their
point. I may need that other album out there to make touring economically
possible but there'll definitely be a new Heaven & Earth album out
aG: Laura Balducci with Rockinphotos Inc,. had two questions 1)"With all due respect to Stuart Smith on being a TALENTED MUSICIAN, I see the 90's as totally lacking in leaving a mark in music history...What direction/ style would you like to see music go into for 2000 ???"
I agree with Laura on the 90's music. I would like to see more emphasis
put on the musicianship as opposed to image.
2) "What style of music will he (you) be writing/playing with his(your) band in 2000?"
Same as usual I expect. There may be some surprises in there
but I'm basically a Rock Blues guitarist so that's what I'll be doing.
I wouldn't mind one day recording a Classical album with an
orchestra or string quartet or maybe doing an all Blues album but for now
I guess it'll be a mixture of everything.
aG:Carol really loves the Heaven And Earth album and wants to know when can we expect more and will the same people be involved?
Thanks Carol. Well, as I said, there'll definitely be a new
album sometime in 2000 but at the moment I'm not sure who'll
be on it. It may be just a band thing or with a few special
guest that happen to be in town when we're recording
it. That of course depends on or not my contacts can track
aG:John is dying to find out if you will ever have a concert with the full line-up from the album together on one stage?
It would be fun to do but a logistical nightmare to arrange as it
would be virtually impossible to get everyone in one town at
the same time. We sort of came close at The Dean Markley show*
at the Key Club in 98 when we had Joe Lynn Turner, Glenn Hughes and Paul
Shortino there. (Dean Markley is Stuart's String
aG: Last fan question, a little background first. editor here at antiMUSIC, Keavin Wiggins, had the pleasure of working on the road crew for Stuart's former band Midnight back in 1991. I had no idea about this when I picked Stuart for Artist of the Month, but it goes show what a small world we do live in. Keavin wants to know if you ever plan to release any more of the old Midnight songs under Heaven and Earth? He is particularly interested in Mandy, I Can't face Another Night, and Prisoner?
you should mention that Keavin. Frontiers Records have insisted
that we add "Prisoner" to the next album. I think "Mandy"
was a great song that was deeply personal to me and I'd love to do
it, but the lyrics are probably a bit trite for today's market but never
know. It's probably one of those songs that will sit around for years
then I'll need extra track and throw it on and it'll end up being a massive
hit. "I Can't face Another Night" has already been done by Joe on
his last album.
aG: He also said that you used to pay him in Beer. You have any job openings?
There certainly is but we pay in cash these days. I'm still trying
pay off his bar tab from 1991 but if this next album goes Platinum
I may be able to get it cleared up.
a final note, I've heard people compare you to some of the greatest guitarist
of all time - Beck, Blackmore and Page. Do you find it difficult
to live up to that reputation? Or do you even consider it
hell of a compliment but it gives you an awful to live up to. At the moment,
I'm handling a lot of my own affairs so I don't get to spend anywhere
near enough time with the instrument as I should do, but that will change
when we get down to touring and recording. I don't really think about
it when I'm playing but it's always in the back of my mind that whatever
I do in the future has got to be better than what I've done before.
aG: Thanks again. Congrats on a great album and I look forward to seeing you on your first solo Stadium tour.
SS: Thank you very much. I look forward to it too.
Get more Stuart Smith
Credits: A Big thanks to Stuart for granting the interview, and to Kevin Phillips for all his help in making this special happen.
Thanks to Wendy Porter for rounding up some fan questions for the interview.