This weeks conversation is with guitarist extraordinaire Tony Smotherman. Tony is an extremely accomplished guitarist who will be working his way into The Rock House soon with 2 DVDs that are going to blow you away.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with Tony here are a few tidbits from his web site http://www.tonysmotherman.com -
Tony is quickly becoming one of the most popular Guitarists on the scene...
His eclectic mix of influences sets him apart from all of his peers with his own distinct sound.
Innovating new techniques and combining a huge array of different styles, Tony has created a diverse musical world.
Tony has opened for and played with a vast array of national and international touring acts.
Although rooted in Rock. Tony intertwines all the musical worlds he explores with his own distinct fingerprint.
Tony is featured in the April 2009 Issue of Guitar World Magazine's "Betcha Can't Play This" with Tony Smotherman.
When I called Tony he was getting ready to head into the studio to wrap up his new solo album. If that wasn’t enough he was also getting prepared for some music clinics in his area.
Rock House Blog: So Tony tell me more about your clinics.
Tony Smotherman: My clinics are called “Licks of the Absurd”. The clinic is based on creating other worldly sounds out of your guitar. I show how to create the sound of a harmonizer without any effects pedals or any of that stuff, the sound just comes straight from your amp. How to mimic a Sitar, neat Japanese instruments and all kinds of weird stuff but just with no effects pedals. This is created by how you attack the strings, the notes that you play, where you play the notes at and all the applications for that stuff. I also teach about exotic scales and of course normal guitar techniques but more modern techniques like how to tap without really tapping. People are really getting into that. I spend a lot of time just trying to figure new things out.
RHB: I like the idea of creating sounds without the pedals.
TS: I have found that people have enough effects and pedals to launch the space shuttle. I don’t think all that is necessary man, there is so much right on the instrument. If you just look at the instrument in a different way there is so much there and you can mimic a lot of different things that you need those pedals for, only you can do it without them. And, I think it’s more impressive and more fun.
RHB: Lets start by going back in time Tony, can you tell me about your early beginnings with music?
TS: Sure, I began playing when I was about 14 years old and I wasn’t really interested in playing rock music or anything like that. A school teacher of mine was in his class room one day and he was playing Bach on a CD player and when I walked in I heard that, I had never heard anything like that before. I mean I’ve heard classical music but I never heard anything that captivated me like that. It was Bach being played on the organ and it just immediately captivated me. I knew right then that I wanted to play music I just didn’t know what I wanted to play.
It was a couple weeks later and I was in a grocery store and I went to the magazine aisle and I saw this guitar magazine that had Yngwie Malmsteem on the cover and thought to myself that guy looks pretty cool. I opened up the magazine and couple pages in was a picture of an old man sitting in front of a symphony with a guitar and I said, “Oh God that is so cool”. I mean just the picture was so inspiring. I bought the magazine to read more about it and the guys name was Andres Segovia who is a classical guitarist. So I immediately tried to find the music of Andres Segovia because I wanted to hear what his guitar sounded like, that picture of him was so powerful. I then bought a CD of his and I couldn’t believe it. Here was a guy playing the guitar with all that classical music, it was so beautiful, it was just so amazing and I said “that’s it, that’s what I want to do. I want to play classical music” and I wanted to play it on the guitar.
RHB: So that was it you just went out and got a guitar and started playing?
TS: Well, my parents couldn’t afford lessons at the time and they couldn’t afford a guitar. I was at school and I was talking about guitars with a buddy of mine. He said, “hey I got a guitar do you want to buy it“? I said yeah! He said, “It’s 35 dollars, it’s an electric guitar“. So immediately I got really excited and I went home and told my parents I needed 35 bucks to buy a guitar, and they bought the guitar for me.
After that a friend of mine started taking guitar lesson from a teacher and he took me to one of his lesson one time and I asked the teacher if he ever played classical guitar and he said, “yeah I actually teach classical guitar”. So I begged my parents please, please, please, please, please could I take lessons and they let me. So he started to teach me classical guitar on my electric guitar. He told me that I really needed a nylon string guitar for this but I was just totally mesmerized by it and used my electric. My mom would take me home and I would be in the back seat trying to work on the lesson before I got home. I would even try and memorize the whole lesson before I got home. We live in the south, in the woods so it was long drive home and I would take every second that I had to work on this material. He introduced me to a lot of music including renaissance music. It was very simple but it had a classical sound. After a couple months of that my parents had put together some money because my teacher said that he had talked to them on the side and told them that I needed a real classical guitar. My parents surprised me, he sold them his classical guitar for $350, man that was a lot of money back then. So I remember coming home one day and I walked into my room and there was my teachers classical guitar sitting on my bed. I thought “wholly cow” man, I couldn’t believe it. I immediately picked it up, I was so happy and I began to play some of the stuff I learned on the guitar. When it started coming though it sounded right, it sounded good. It didn’t sound like Segovia but it sounded like the same sound you know? And, that began my classical guitar thing. I practiced so many hours a day because I just loved the sound. I was really working on it properly. I was sitting up correctly and really getting my fingernails to the right point but I still had so many questions. Then one day I was in class and heard a Bach Lute Suite and I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. It sounded like 4 guitars playing at the same time. That started my quest onto Bach and I learned all the Lute Suites and they were pretty flawless at the time because I was practicing so hard.
RHB: I read on your web site about getting recognized by The Queen of England.
TS: The biggest highlight of playing classical guitar was getting recognized by Queen Elizabeth the II for my classical guitar playing.
A teacher of mine used to have me come into school and play for her every morning, she was from England. She would tell me “Please come to school early and bring your guitar, I want to hear you play every morning before school”. So I did that. Then she says “We need to talk, my parents still live in England, and you know the Queen has classical guitarist come and play for her all the time. Lets put together a package for you to send her, lets get you recorded and lets send it to the Queen, you never know what will happen”. So she wrote a cover letter and I wrote a letter to the Queen. We put everything together and we sent it out.
About 2 months later a letter came in a gold seal and everything. The first letter was from the Lady in Waiting. Then there was a second letter that had an HRH on it and it had a royal stamp. I was like HRH? HRH? And then it hit me it stood for Her Royal Highness. So I opened it up and it was a hand written letter for the Queen. The Queen told me that she wasn’t able to adhere to my request for me to come and play for her. (Mostly because of a lot of political things going on at the time). But that she had received my music and she received it well and that she found it to be very highly sophisticated classical music and that I should continue on with my playing and continue to write to her and let her know about my career as the years go by.
RHB: So when did the conversion to electric guitar come?
TS: I was at a buddies house and he put on a record and said “hey, do want to hear a real guitar player, listen to this”. He put on this record and I heard this thunder and lightening and all the sudden this crazy and fast picking and arpeggios and all this stuff and I said, “Oh my God” that is a classical guitar player that plays an electric guitar, “that’s what I want to do” and it was Yngwie Malmsteem. That was it, that’s what started the electric guitar thing.
I also heard Jimi Hendrix, that took me to another world by exploring his playing and the things that he did. I was probably 16 or 17 at the time actually so I kind of started late on the electric guitar.
RHB: I find it interesting that many classical guitarist reference Jimi Hendrix, what’s the correlation?
TS: Jimis music is so timeless that within it if you really open your ears and listen, everything is already in there. Its got R and B, it’s blues, it’s rock, it’s jazz, it’s even classical music. Not so much that he is playing anything classical it’s just with the direction that he went. His mind was so open that he could have taken you anywhere, that’s the classical influence. It’s not that he played classical but there is just a huge, huge correlation between Jimi and every kind of music and that’s why it’s so timeless, that’s why he was so timeless. When Jimi plays he touches you in a way that no other guitar player is able to. There aren’t many musicians that can hit you like that. It’s just a very particular feeling that you get from him. It’s not that he was that much better, it’s that feeling that he brought across that hits you and it hits you hard. So that’s the correlation I think.
Tomorrow in part 2 of our interview with Tony. We will talk about the biggest moment in his career, exotic scales, Rock House and what's on tap for Tony in the future.