January 2000 - Interview with Stuart Smith of Heaven and Earth

Stuart SmithStuart Smith - Los Angeles, CA
By Hotbands Editor-Pat Ferris

I'm not really sure how Stuart's agent came to contacting us, but he was somehow directed to our recording guy, Richard Cagle, who ended up with a copy of his CD.   Richard was so impressed with the CD and guest artists, that he suggested I featured him on our 1st issue of new millennium.

After contacting Stuart's Agent (that was a clue there!) I figured he was probably a pretty happening musician, and after checking his website I not only knew I wanted to feature him, but thought it incredibly coincidental that I had a second featured band that had close relationships with Deep Purple.

When I received his promo pack, I was impressed with the Dean Markley brochure with a photo of Stuart on the front (the pic of him in the red shirt in the first picture on this page), and set up the interview as quickly as I could considering the lack of time during the holiday season, and here is how the interview went:

<Hotbands> Hi

<StuartSmith> Hi

<Hotbands> Okay....how about this funky way of communicating?

<StuartSmith> It's pretty interesting, I've never tried the ICQ before

<Hotbands> ICQ is very cool. Been on it for almost 2 years now.

Kelly Hansen<Hotbands> I'm listening to your CD as we chat as well....extremely well produced. Is that Kelly singing?

<StuartSmith> Thank you. Kelly Hansen sings the first track, "Don't Keep Me Waiting".

<Hotbands> Are you singing on any of them?

<StuartSmith> No, and I don't think you'd want to hear me sing!

<Hotbands> I think your guitar playing is awesome. Is Kelly singing on the other tracks too?

<StuartSmith> Kelly sings on four songs on the Heaven and Earth CD.  The 1st, 5th, 9th and 11th.

<Hotbands> I went through your entire website the past couple days snagging photos and reading about your life story. It sounds like you've had a very interesting life! Do you consider yourself a UK artist or a USA artist? Tell me about where you were born, where you grew up, etc.

<StuartSmith> I guess I'd be a little of both. I was born in York, England. My Father was a jet fighter pilot in the RAF and ever since I could remember that's what I wanted to do. I started playing guitar around seven years old but didn't discover that I was colour blind till I was about 17 so that meant I couldn't fly jets.

<Hotbands> When did you first start playing professionally?

<StuartSmith> When I was about 18

<Hotbands> So it came after you found out you couldn't fly jets huh?

<StuartSmith> Not quite. I went and worked for Texas Instruments in England, learning to build and design computers before they decided to send me for a medical where they discovered exactly what I'd put on my employment application that I was colour blind. That was about it for the normal world for me so I started a band.

<Hotbands> It seems the other way around for most musicians!!! Most musicians go for the music FIRST and fall back on the "normal" world if the music doesn't work out for them!

<StuartSmith> I guess the guitar was trying to tell me something :-)Ritchie Blackmore with a young Stuart Smith

<Hotbands> I just listened to track 5....Kelly is awesome

<StuartSmith> He really is a great singer.  He'll be singing on the next album.

<Hotbands> So after you started your band....how and when did you fall in with the Deep Purple gang?

<StuartSmith> I heard Deep Purple in Rock when I was 14 and that turned me on to Rock & Roll. I always thought Ritchie (Blackmore) was the best guitarist I'd ever heard so I went to every possible show. I eventually met him at a party when he was with the first version of Rainbow and we eventually ended up becoming best friends.

<Hotbands> When did he figure out you were following the band around?

<StuartSmith> I don't think he did!

<Hotbands> I mentioned to you when we spoke earlier today that a couple months ago I featured a gal from Orlando named Jill Towers and her Executive Producer was Ian Gillan. When I mentioned to her that I was going to feature you for our website and that you were friends with Ritchie, she said Ian and Ritchie aren't too chummy these days.

<StuartSmith> No, unfortunately they haven't got along in quite a while. it's a shame because I think they made incredible music together.

<Hotbands> Much like CREAM....the band together was totally mind-blowing if you could put up with the fist-fights between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker during the shows!

<StuartSmith> Yes, very good analogy. Did that actually happen?

<Hotbands> I think it happened more than once. I heard a story of Ginger Baker picking up his floor tom and throwing it at Jack hitting him in the back...Jack set his bass down and they duked it out on-stage for 5 minutes, then came back to their instruments and finished the show....unbelievable!  No wonder Eric Clapton didn't want to jam with them for 20+ years!!

<StuartSmith> That's too funny!

<Hotbands> Speaking of Eric Clapton, I read about the midnight jam with Ritchie next door to Eric Clapton's room where his bouncer came over and threatened you?

<StuartSmith> Yes, it was just bad luck that the hotel gave us that room.

<Hotbands> Maybe good luck....it makes for a great story!

<StuartSmith> Yes...It was hilarious at the time and it made all the Australian papers the next day.

<Hotbands> So this was back in the early 80's? I probably saw you with Ritchie in Hawaii during that experience I mentioned to you where I was with friends and bumped into you guys during a bar-hopping adventure (back in my Navy days), but I didn't know you or Ritchie...it was my friend that was coming unglued because we/he just talked to him. Who would have guessed that we would be chatting on the internet 20 years later?

<StuartSmith> That would have been on the way to Australia and we stopped over in Hawaii to rest up for a couple of days. We had a couple of drinks at that bar which I'll never forget. They were called "Monkey in Orbit" and Ritchie and I had a couple of them each and got on the plane smashed out of our brains.

<Hotbands> .......Musicians!

<Hotbands> So who is in your current line up, and tell me a little about how that came to being. I know that the in-depth details are on your website, but in a nutshell for the readers, tell how you ended up with your current band, and what your current plans are.

Stuart Smith with Richie Onori<StuartSmith> The members of Heaven & Earth are myself on guitar. Kelly Hansen on vocals, we'd worked together in the past and he'd sung on the album. Same with Richie Onori (Drums) and Ray Rodriguez (Keyboards). The bass player is a guy I met out here from Sweden named Bjorn Englen. He was introduced to me by a journalist out here. Plans for the new year are a bit sketchy at the moment. I'd like to go out and tour on this album but Frontiers Records who licensed the album for Europe have offered me a worldwide deal for the next album and think we need this out to get the interest up to tour.

<Hotbands> Is Frontier Records affiliated with Samsung? I read you signed with them and see that your Heaven and Earth CD was produced by them.

<StuartSmith> It's kind of a long story but when I signed with Samsung they were going to be distributed by WEA but then the Asian economy collapsed and they lost that deal so I found Frontiers Records to license it for Europe and Pony canyon for Japan. I'm still looking for a company to pick it up for the States. Samsung put up the money for the album.

<Hotbands> It seems that a lot of musicians are so fed-up with the record industry that they are turning to selling their products exclusively over the internet. What are your thoughts on this and do you see the Internet as the holy-grail for musicians looking for a break?

<StuartSmith> Totally. It's opened up a whole new universe for musicians. I would never have got Heaven & Earth licensed if it wasn't for all the press I'd got on the Internet. I think the major labels are getting very scared because you don't need a huge budget to record and album now with all the computerized home recording equipment that's out there and now people have a way to market it as well.

<Hotbands> I know....I think it's cool that there are lots of bands exposed to the world because of the internet because it levels the playing field, but I've also seen problems with the internet. One of the main things I have seen that I don't like is that ANYBODY can get out there and make "music"...and I use that term REAL loosely. There are a lot of nerds that sit behind a screen and make total garbage as far as I'm concerned, upload it to MP3.com and now they have a new record...taking up space on MP3.com's website, using their bandwidth and creating more competition for REAL musicians that have spent years perfecting their craft. I think there is an equilibrium for musicians and that the demand for the music will be based upon how well it goes over with the public, but with so much crap to sift through, it makes it in a lot of ways, easier for bands to be heard, but harder for them to be NOTICED or found.

<StuartSmith> Yes, you're right, but the good thing is that people can hear it before they buy it so the dross like Limp Bizcit wouldn't stand a chance.  I think Cream always rises to the top and one of the other good things about the Internet is that a lot of people like yourself are creating their own magazines which will help guide people to decent music. I'm sure the same is true of trashy music. There'll be sites dedicated to that and people with no musical taste whatsoever can go and listen to it there :-)

<Hotbands> yeah....no kidding!   So your current lineup in your band is Kelly, Bjorn, Richie Onori and Ray Rodriguiez?

<StuartSmith> Yes.

<Hotbands> On the album Heaven and Earth, you had a bunch of "All-Star" musicians. On your next album, you will just have your band, or should we expect more guests? Also, tell us about when your next album will be out, what to expect, etc.

<StuartSmith> Yes, more than likely. There may be a couple of special guests.  I guess we'll probably start working on it in January and it will follow along the lines of the last one. Some Rock some blues some classical and who knows.

<Hotbands> Are you planning on any US tours? Last summer, I covered the Seattle Peace Concerts up here as well as the Seattle Hemp-Fest. I know both of the directors for these events and would be more than happy to pass along your info. As well, Seattle Bumbershoot, which is a HUGE music festival on Labor Day weekend is booking for artists.

<StuartSmith> I'd love to play up there. We just got back from playing The Gods Festival in England and the band's ready to go. We may even take a break in recording to do a few dates if they come up.

<Hotbands> On the promo pack I had sent to me, it said "To play the blues, you have to first be out in the cold" or something along those lines. Do you consider yourself a "Blues" artist, or more of a rocker?

<StuartSmith> "Before you can play the blues, you've got to have been out in the cold".  That slogan was for an ad being put together by Dean Markley, my string company. The stings I use are Blue Steel which have been cryogenically frozen so there's kind of a triple entendre in that saying. First of all, I'm standing in the snow on the CD cover and the strings have been treated with cold. Also, I haven't brought anything out in years so I've sort of been out in the cold. I play the blues as well as rock and I play BLUE Steel strings. That idea was put together by myself and Rich Friedrich who was the head of A & R at Dean Markley but sadly died a couple of years ago.

<Hotbands> Your music doesn't sound like "blues" but more like straight ahead rock along the lines of Rainbow.

<StuartSmith> I guess I'd consider myself a Blues Rock player. I always considered Deep Purple and Rainbow to be blues rock bands.

<Hotbands> Starting in January, I'll be taking over a slot on a local AM radio talk station, trying something that hasn't been tried (to my knowledge) before. We will be having a 5 hour show with one of the hours being for "National" acts (which means bands outside of the greater Seattle area) and the following 3 hours being local Seattle area bands playing for a live audience at one of the clubs up here. Since this is a talk show, we'll play cuts from CD's for the call-in guests and have interviews on the phone with callers and members of the live audience asking questions. I'd love to have you on the show, and as soon as we get the schedule worked out, I'll let you know....that is if you are interested.

<StuartSmith> Sounds like a really good idea, I hope it works out for you. I'd definitely be interested in doing it.

<Hotbands> The bigger picture for this is that we may incorporate a web-cast so it can be heard around the world as well. This actually isn't a "may" but a "will", but is dependent upon some bigger things that Hotbands is putting together with some larger Internet companies right now.

<StuartSmith> That would be great. I know a lot of stations are broadcasting from their web pages via Real Audio.

<Hotbands> We also have the opportunity if it goes well to have the show syndicated....since I may be traveling around the country considerably in the upcoming months, that would make it really a happening event for people to listen to since it will incorporate many genres from many regions of the country.

<Hotbands> Stuart, one of the last things that I want to ask you on this interview is something that I have asked most of the bands that I've featured, and that is: What would you say to the new, emerging artists that are tuned in to our site, to give them encouragement and any hints to the successes you've had over the years?  How would you recommend that one learns without going to the school of hard-knocks?

<StuartSmith> First,  I think it's really important to get proper lessons before they start. You've got to learn the rules before you can break them. Also, it's very important to get to know how the music business works because  there are   so many ways to get ripped off! You won't believe the amount of musicians I know that were huge but lost all their money because they didn't know whatthey were signing when it was put in front of them. Anything you sign or agree to should go through your lawyer first. There's a very good book about the industry by a lawyer called Donald Passman called "Everything you want to know about the music business". That's well worth reading. (It's also available on Audio-Book).  Also I think it's important for them to learn as many styles as possible but stay true to where you're heart is.

<Hotbands> So an ounce of prevention is worth the time invested.

<StuartSmith> Definitely.

<Hotbands> Is there anything else you want to say to the readers before we log off our interview?

<StuartSmith> I hope to see you all out there in the year 2000...If we're all still here that is!!   :-)

<Hotbands> Yikes....I better not print that!!...maybe I will anyhow to show you have a sense of humor.

<StuartSmith> Sure, go ahead!

Stuart and Ritchie on New Years<Hotbands> Are you spending New Years eve with Ritchie again?

<StuartSmith> Actually,  My wife is Heather Locklear's Sister and I'm planning an evening with the family.

<Hotbands> Well, make sure to tell Heather Locklear I said hello !! (As if... !!!)

<StuartSmith> I'll do that.

<Hotbands> By the way, I'm a HUGE  Monty Python fan!

<StuartSmith> Same here. Ritchie Blackmore and I used to have some of our favorite sketches off by heart.

<Hotbands> Me too...I'm sure that it's people like us that drives guys like John Cleese crazy!

<StuartSmith> He's not the Messiah...he's a very naughty boy.

<Hotbands> Only the true Messiah would deny being the Messiah....

<StuartSmith> All right.... I am the Messiah, now F%#!! Off !!

<Hotbands> HE IS THE MESSIAH!!!

<StuartSmith> LOL

<Hotbands> TOO FUNNY!!!  Thanks Stuart!  It's been a lot of fun chatting with you and I look forward to working with you in the future!