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Published: 2009/12/08
by Randy Ray

On Any Given Night with G.E. Smith

Bonnaroo 2009 – photo by Dean Budnick

He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before
But yes I think it can be very easily done
-“Highway 61 Revisited,” Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan band member, Saturday Night Live bandleader, Kennedy Center Honors bandleader, Hall & Oates guitarist and early MTV video pioneer, signature Telecaster honoree, and, currently, Moonalice guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and tribal member known as Hardwood, G.E. Smith has had such a wide berth in the music industry that one would be hard-pressed to gather stories in an entire day, much less a brief interview.

Originally interviewed for a series of quotes about Moonalice for a Relix feature, Smith presented Jambands.com with a warm and friendly overview of his career, as well. The guitarist is a seasoned vet, and a self-descibed “cynical, jaded music biz guy,” but he left those attributes somewhere else while the musician graciously spoke about his past work, which helps shed light on his current preoccupations—music, and otherwise.

RR: Let’s start in with Moonalice. How did you meet [bandleader] Roger McNamee?

GES: The way I met Roger McNamee—you know, he’s the heart and soul of Moonalice; it’s completely his conception—was through Jorma and Jack [Kaukonen and Casady] because I had known them for a long time. Somehow they got to know Roger, and then I got to know him so that’s how I got there.

RR: I saw the band in a small venue in Arizona, and what I noticed was the obvious chemistry between the members. Not just when you were playing within the song structures, but when you got into the meat of the songs with the improvisation.

GES: Yeah, well, thank you. We have a good time. I mean, look—we’re grown ups, right? So, if we didn’t enjoy each other’s company, we wouldn’t put up with it. When you’re young, you’ll put up with a creep being in the band if he makes the band good. But not when you’re grown up. I just can’t, anyway, deal with it. These are all really good people, and I really enjoy being on the road, and working with them.

RR: What was impressive to me was the whole concept of a traveling road show hitting your town. You had Steve Parrish coming out to MC at the beginning of the sets, and then you’ve got Roger telling the legends of Moonalice. The whole concept of the band appears to have a foot in the past, and one in the present, as well.

GES: Yeah, it is that, and, again, I have to credit Roger with really thinking of that. They’re all based—Jack [Casady], not so much, or [John] Molo, they’re Los Angeles guys—in the Bay Area. I still live in New York City. But definitely the real inner core of the band is somewhere in that late 60s San Francisco thing. And I loved that music when it came out. It was a big influence on me, as it was on most people who were paying attention at the time. So to use that as a starting point, I think was a great idea. Then, of course, because it is 2009, we have the freedom to do whatever else we want to do, and add to that.

RR: You’ve been the musical director in various bands and formats, and the man on stage that was a conduit to the other band members. In Moonalice, what I noticed was that sometimes, you’d step out front, sometimes, you’d step back, and then, of course, there is the situation that everyone gets a chance to play the bass.

GES: Yeah, if Jack’s not there, we all take turns on the bass. When I was 15, 16, and I’d go to the Fillmore East and see bands, one of the things that I loved was, occasionally, one of the guys would just leave, just walk off the stage. And I’d think, “That’s so cool.”

At the time, I didn’t know what the guy was doing. Maybe he was going to take a pee; maybe he was going to get high; I don’t know. I just thought, from my viewpoint in the audience, that’s so cool. There’s nobody in the band that’s so important that the band can’t go on without. I think that for this particular band that’s a good thing.

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