Get To Know Greg Smith Bassist for Ted Nugent

Posted on January 23, 2011

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Ah my first interview with an artist.  You’d think I’d be nervous. Either I’m over confident or Greg Smith was that accommodating.  Things became much easier when I learned we lived close by.  Now don’t go trying to find Greg’s house just yet.  His current boss is, that’s right, Mr. Ted Nugent.  If you know anything about anything, you don’t want to show up unannounced in Ted’s Territory!  Other groups that round out Greg’s resume: Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult, Rainbow, Tommy James & the Shondells and the Broadway show Movin’ Out.

If you thought that was eclectic enough, it doesn’t stop there.  In fact, even when it stops, Greg still manages to book a few gigs with friends when he is not touring.  Prime example is tonight.  I catch Greg at a local bar in PA playing with Chuck Burgi on drums (Billy Joel) Phil Varca and John Cannavo sharing guitar duties.  Fittingly, they dubbed the group; Off The Road.

Greg, breaking in his new to him ’66 Fender Jazz Bass (drool shot of the bass below!)

Billy Voight: Greg, just last week you were playing at the Hartke Booth for the big Winter NAMM show.  What’d you play?  Any players or gear that you went gaga over?

Greg Smith: I did a demo at the Hartke Booth.  I got there right when Stu Hamm and Billy Sheehan were on and I’m thinking, “Grrreat I gotta follow THESE guys!”  So I just started riffing and playing ideas ’til I ran out and I had a good time.  Gear, Ernie Ball’s new Musicman.  You can tweak the pickups on a computer.  It’s really freakin cool, but this is coming from a guy that plays a P-bass.  I’m oldschool.

BV: Speaking of which, your current rig?  Basses, Amps?

GS:  2 Hartke LH1000 heads and 2 Hartke Hydrive 8x10s.  ’72 P-bass w/ EMGs and a ’66 Jazz bass.

BV: Pick/Fingers/Weird Darth Vader Claws?  What is your right hand doing?

GS: These 2 (index and middle) I can use a pick if I have to, for instance Stranglehold, the day I met Ted he said, “Stranglehold with a pick right?” and I said, “Whatever you want boss.”

BV: Who were your early influences in bass that made you say, “I Wanna Do THAT!”

GS: Roger Glover of Deep Purple, Glenn Hughes, Geezer Butler, definitely Geezer Butler.

BV: First gig where you felt you arrived as a professional musician?

GS: Well it’s kind of a two part thing:  When I was 20 I started playing with Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics and then that fell apart and when I was 28 with Alice Cooper.

BV: You were in Wayne’s World.  Another iconic rock movie is Spinal Tap.  Any Tap-like moments out on tour?

GS: A few! (laughs) Most notably when I was with Rainbow I found out his girlfriend’s mom was taking over the management.  That was pretty Tap man!  As a matter of fact I think my quote was, “Have we learned nothing from Spinal Tap!”

BV: Most fun tour lineup?

GS: Rainbow in ’95.  That would include Chuck (Burgi) too, Doogie White on vocals, Paul Morris on keys.

BV: You play a ton of diverse gigs, from Alice Cooper to Broadway.  How do you prepare?  Charts?  Listening to CDs?

GS: As far as charts, I write my own charts that only I can understand.  I don’t read very well, I can read.  I was lucky enough that when I started playing professionally, I worked with a lot of Berklee guys, so I just sucked their knowledge…they paid for the education and I just sucked it right out of them.

Rough shot of Greg’s cheat sheet.  Basically outlines chords and repeats.

BV: How much of getting the gig is skill, how much is who you know and just plain good work ethics/attitudes?

GS:  It all goes hand in hand, first you got to be good enough to get the gig, but that being said there are a lot of guys that aren’t so good that get some pretty good gigs.  Maybe he grew up with the guitar player or drummer.  You know a lot of gigs are based on recommendations.  But that being said, if a guy don’t pull his weight, he’s gonna get his ass shit-canned.

BV: What’s coming up for you in the future, anything you want to plug?

GS: I got the Nugent tour this summer.  He has a couple of one offs in April too.  I don’t even know where, they don’t tell me where.

BV: (jokes) You’re going to Guatemala!

GS: We went to Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba and it took us a few days because of hurricanes and this is all military transport.  When we finally get down there, it’s still a hurricane and the bay is actually two parts, the airports on one side and the barracks on the other.  So Ted gets across to the other side and by the time the transport comes back to get us, everything is flooded out.  So me, Mick Brown (drummer) and our crew get stuck on the side with the detainees barracks.  So we had to sleep there.  Thank God there was one bar there.  So that was my trip to Guantanamo Bay, we didn’t even get to play.

BV: Any advice for the aspiring musician?

GS: Yeah, practice, be the best you can be, learn all different types of music, play with as many musicians as you can, because you learn something with everyone you play with and go meet people.  Go to every jam night.  Go there, kick ass.  That’s the best advice I can give anyone.

Off The Road doing just that! L-R Greg, John, Phil and Chuck.

BV: There’s a brand new Corvette or Harley in if for you…Would you wear pink spandex on stage?

GS: Dude, no, couldn’t do it. The thing is, I wore the spandex in the early 80s, so I still have nightmares!

BV: Jet lag I’m sure is huge with you, ever buy something off an infomercial at 3am just to be disappointed later?  OK, what I want to know is: Does Greg Smith own and operate a camo Snuggie?

GS: (laughs) No no no!  But my wife is the Gadget Queen!  I come home from tour and there’s Shamwows and Oxi Clean and all that shit.

BV: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down: Steven Tyler judging American Idol?

GS: I love Steven.  He’s the ultimate rock star, but I think that’s jumping the shark.  I love Steve though.

BV: Any pre-gig rituals?

GS: 2 Heinekens

BV: (As Chuck walks by) Guilty Pleasure: That ONE song you love, but don’t want your bandmates to know about?

GS: Ahhh anything by The Carpenters
Chuck: C’MON MAN THE CARPENTERS!

The great Chuck Burgi on drums.

BV: Deal with the Devil.  You can replace any current band with a band from the past that maybe death or just hey, they broke up too soon.  Who is it?

GS: Do you consider REM current?

BV: Sure.

GS: OK they’re out! Led Zeppelin’s back in!

BV: Finish this sentence.  When I’m not playing bass I am ____.

GS: I’d like to be canoeing or camping on the Delaware, but usually I’m working on my house.  I got a 100 year old house that always needs something.  So I’m most likely swingin’ a hammer.

BV: “I’d do this gig for the food!” What town, item or eatery?

GS: Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh, Jerry’s Deli in LA, Barney’s Beanary…I could go on.

BV: If this show or movie comes on, the phones going to voicemail and I’m shutting the front porch light off.
GS: Twilight Zone. Classic!

BV: You played Movin Out, you play with a Journey tribute group.  Two great bassists: Doug Stagmeyer and Ross Valory.  Favorite lines by each:

GS: Doug, Zanzibar and Stiletto was another great one.  Journey, “Stone In Love”

BV: Hey, well that’s it.  Thanks a ton!  Um…anyone you want to insult, maybe any questions for yourself?

GS: Yeah, why didn’t I listen to my mother and become a doctor!

That wraps this up.  My thanks to Greg Smith for his time and to Larry Hartke for masterminding this interview.

For more info on Greg, you can check out his website gsmith.com

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