Emmy winner, GE Smith has been called a supreme musicologist and sideman to all. He was kind enough to share his thoughts about his upcoming Saturday, October 26th presentation of a show entitled “Portraits.” It will be at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC). GE will share his passion for R&B while highlighting his guest, Grammy winner Steve Earle, who actually toured with GE and Bob Dylan years back, as well as being known to so many as an American rock, country and folk singer-songwriter, record producer, author and actor. Earle began his career as a songwriter in Nashville in 1982.
Earle’s breakthrough album was the 1986 album Guitar Town. Since then, Earle has released 15 studio albums and received three Grammy awards. His songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, The Highwaymen (country supergroup), Travis Tritt, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Shawn Colvin, Bob Seger, Ian Stuart Donaldson and Emmylou Harris.
Smith lives full time, with his wife Taylor Barton (who is co-producing the WHBPAC event), in Amagansett. He too has a huge litany of work including three accomplished albums. Smith is very excited about this show and when asked to describe “Portraits” said, “It will be acoustic, with us [Steve Earle] both doing some storytelling about our careers, the songs we are playing and our lives. It will be just us two and our guitars. Although we have a sort of song list, we may play songs we haven’t played, because the show is not scripted. It’s just us up there playing live, talking music – who knows we may end up singing some song that comes up in conversation.”
Smith is called GE because his name is George Edward Smith. His start in big-time music was playing lead guitar for Hall and Oates. His tenure as Band Leader of Saturday Night Live on NBC is considered by many as being the show’s best musical years. He also toured with Bob Dylan and recently Roger Waters of Pink Floyd.
I asked Smith about his first guitar and he chuckled. “When I was four, I went down to the basement of our home with my mom. She was doing the laundry, and hanging on the wall in some corner was an old acoustic guitar, and I said what is that? And she said that is a guitar that had belonged to my uncle. I told my mom I wanted it. So she took it down and gave it to me. I remember striking the strings and hearing the sound the strings vibrating made, and understanding how the vibrating strings created that sound. It kind of snapped the whole world into focus for me”
At age 7, someone gave Smith a C.F. Martin guitar and as he recalls, “At that time I could play a few basic chords.”
The story of the purchase of his first electric guitar, a used Fender Telecaster, is a gem. Smith’s mom [Verna Loree Smith] purchased it for him on his 11th birthday at the local music shop for $100 by making monthly payments. Smith noted, “I still have the payment book and that guitar was created by Fender in January 1952 and I was born in February 1952. Of course I still have that guitar.”
Then, I asked Smith about how he met Taylor Barton. I wrongfully assumed she was singing and he corrected me. “Actually, when I met Taylor she was dancing on a SNL skit. She was an extra on the show and was dancing in a skit and I looked at her and she looked at me and we have now been together for 29 years.”
It was Barton who has put together this series of what she calls “Portraits” – where she pairs Smith with another accomplished musical guest for an intimate night of magical musical story, telling and playing. Smith hosts a rotating roster of acclaimed musicians and artists from all realms for a deeper look at what drives them creatively.
In closing out the interview, I asked Smith for a story. He has played with so many legends, been to so many after parties, spent many years at SNL, so I figured he must have a story he could share, perhaps one about Bob Dylan. At first Smith didn’t know what to say. Then he revealed, “There is one I can share. Right at the end when I was playing with him – that would have to be in 1992-1993 – I was riding on the subway in NYC, on the “R.” I was getting off at 50th Street [Rockefeller Center] to go to my office at SNL. As I get off the train and I am going up the steps and I felt a hand grab my elbow from behind and I turn around and it was Bob, wearing a hoodie. He must have been on the same train. He looks at me and says in that distinct raspy Bob Dylan voice, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ And I said, ‘Bob, I’m just going over to the office, you know, over to Saturday Night Live.’ And Bob says, ‘Oh, great, great, glad you’re working.’ And, off he went doing what he was doing. But there was Bob, on a train, nobody knew him, he had his hoodie on.”
Catch GE Smith and Steve Earle performing songs and telling stories as part of “Taylor Barton & WHBPAC Present GE Smith Portraits” at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday, October 26, at 8 p.m.
Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is located at 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach. For more information, call 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.