Started: Age 15 in 1979
Instruments: Guitar, Lap Steel Guitar, Pedal Steel Guitar, Bass Guitar, Drums
Styles: Rock, Blues, Country
Recordings: 4 - Head (EP of original material) Stride and Friends: Bah Humbug (Rock instrumental Christmas arrangements) Fresh Blood Volume 1: Six String Extremes (interactive compilation disk with three other guitarists)
Gear: Fender Custom Shop Telecaster Gibson ES-335 Fender Vibro King amplifier Hughes and Kettner Triamp amplifier
Lesson Text: Learn to Play Guitar With Scott A. Smith Bluesman Scott A. Smith's guitar lessons are for beginner and intermediate Blues guitar players. Scott's easy-going personality and clear instruction will make it easy for you to learn all the necessary ingredients that go into playing the Blues. Scott first familiarizes you with the sound of blues-dominant chords, the prevalent chords in Blues. Learn the shuffle pattern, along with triplet and swing eighth notes, which is the basic feel for Blues. In order to be able to play Blues in different keys, Scott will introduce you to transposing, together with the standard I-IV-V progression and the minor I-IV-V progression. Work on your soloing skills with his lesson about solo construction, including kitchen-sink solo construction, bending, trills, forward rake, basic phrasing, and classic riff examples. For intermediate players, Scott discusses 12/8 Blues in C minor, position switching, and combining open and closed position boogie patterns. He'll introduce you to 9th chords, which add an 'uptown' feel to your playing. At last, discover a darker shade of Blue.
Scott keeps active in the music scene playing plenty of local gigs with the band Bittercreek Texas Scott performs on the guitar and vocals with the country, rock, and classic blues group. Scott also writes songs for the band and on his own. After making his summer rounds at National Guitar Workshop campuses around the country, he plans to head back home to finish a solo recording started a couple of years ago. Scott is featured in the Mike Varney Spotlight of Guitar Player Magazine April 2006 issue. Scott has also recorded with Stride on the Christmas release, "Bah Humbug" - definitely check out Scott"s and others" extraordinary guitar talents on this Trans Siberian Orchestra - like album.
When did you start to play guitar? I was about 15. I think I was always destined to be a musician of some type. It had a lot to do with my parents. I was making some real poor life choices at that point of my life, and they wanted something to occupy my time. They wanted me to the play the piano, but I wasn't into that. We met in the middle. Guitar lessons were available to me, but I wasn't allowed to have an electric guitar; it was classical guitar. I was disappointed, but I got over it real quick. And that's where it all started. I'd just always been a real fan of music, and it was just a matter of time before I found the right instrument. At what point did you get into pedal steel? That was one of the second or third musicians' lives that I've had. In my late 20s I started getting real disillusioned and tired about the way the whole rock thing was going. I"m a metal guy, you know, I'm from the old school of 80s metal - that's where I cut my teeth. I was in LA doing all this crazy stuff and then, like a light switch, the labels just weren't interested in that thing anymore. And I just wanted out of that scene; I was tired of it. Here in Texas we have a real thriving music scene, but you"re required to play certain styles of music. I was raised on country music; my dad is a big country music fan, so I already knew all the music, I just didn't know I knew it. My dad had raised me on Hank Williams, so I already knew the repertoire and all those sounds. I didn"t know much about pedal steel guitar, other than when I sat down to rip the stuff off the record I would run into these guitar parts that I couldn't play. They turned out to be pedal steel, of course. The norm in my neck of the woods is that steel players don't really belong to bands; they hire out. They're very much free agents. And the band I was in was so bad we couldn't get anybody to come play with us. So I said, "How hard can this be? If somebody produces one of these instruments, I'll play the damn thing."And I was just talking trash, but the next day at rehearsal the fiddle player brought a steel and said, "Put your money where your mouth is." So at about age 28 I took up real hard and heavy with that instrument and for couple of years that was about all I did. I studied with a real good pedal steel player; I was brought up with the right guys. Actually, pedal steel is my retirement plan. When I can't stand up on the stage and I"m too feeble to make chords I'll just sit behind that pedal steel and hold that bar. When did you start to notice your playing was different from everybody else's? I listen to myself more intently than anybody else, so I noticed. I"m kind of a jack of all trades guitarist, so I have a little bit of everybody in what I do. There was a point at which I realized there was definitely something going on, and that I should pursue it. When did you find your voice as a player? I'll let you know! How do you keep your playing fresh? I always approach it like it's brand new, and like it's the greatest thing in the world, which it is. It's never going to get old. It's the one thing in my life that I can rely on being a lot of fun every time I do it. That in itself keeps it fresh every time I play. What do you do when you get stuck? It's taken a lot of years to arrive at this. It's a real simple kind of philosophy. For every valley, there's a peak. If I get into a funk or I get into a rut, I know that eventually I'm going to come out of it. And usually, a rut is followed by an upturn. So, when I fall into a rut, I almost in a way embrace it, because it's an opportunity to up my game. I've had to struggle with music - I'm not a natural musician. I don't have any musicians in my genetic pool. Every note was hard fought. I've had a lot of ruts. I went through periods of my life where my whole self-esteem was based on how I played. I don't know if that's maladjusted or not, but that's how it was, so I had to come up with a coping mechanism for the severe ruts an up and coming player goes through. What do you find still hard to do? I don't want to sound arrogant, but everything that I've set out to do, I'm pretty good at. I wish I had more stylistic facility in certain styles. I have limited range in certain styles of music. Like when I go play with jazz guys, I have three licks that I have to play all night; I really don't know what to do with that kind of music. I wish I was a little less encumbered. I wish I was a better singer. I never really concentrated on my singing, and here, late in the game, I kind of wish I had. Singing integrates your guitar playing to your soul. That might sound a little hippy-dippy, but it ties it all together. About fifteen years ago I came to the realization that if I sing what I play, and play what I sing, then it becomes part of me. I can't explain why it works or how it works, it just works. It's singing, not to be a singer, but to fuse yourself to your instrument. I sing well enough that I can sing my chops, but I'm petrified to stand in front of people and make a statement. Everything that I've done in my musical efforts hasn't necessarily been to make me a better musician, it's been to make me a better guitar player. So here, 25 years into the game, I've had to do a lot of things I didn't expect to do, in order to be a good guitar player and one of them was becoming a crack musician. I think that's where a lot of students fail in their studies, in that they don't realize that the best guitar players out there are musicians who play guitar, they're not just guitarists. How often are you surprised by your playing, or what you're listening to, or music in general? That goes back to the reason we get up in the morning. Man, every time, every time. That's the miraculous thing about music - it never gets old. Songs get old, players get old, but there's always something fresh out there. As far as my personal playing, I surprise myself every time I pick up the instrument, and it's always a joyous occasion to be surprised with yourself. "I'm surprised you made a rookie mistake like that. I'm surprised you called that song - you know you don"t know it." And there are other moments when you go, "Damn, I'm getting pretty good! I guess I'm a guitar player." Do you have a regular practice regimen? Yeah, I do. It depends on what I'm doing and what my goals are as to what my practice routine is. I'm the ultimate guitar geek, so everything in my life basically revolves around me getting time to play guitar as much as possible. I go through phases of creativity where certain things are required. Presently my work routine (I really don't refer to it as a practice routine) is assimilating new material, because I'm getting ready to start a writing phase, and whenever I start a writing phase I usually spend some time paying homage to my influences. So I'm relearning a few old things, ripping off some solos, just getting back in touch with all the little inflections of the certain styles of music that I play. Then I get into a writing phase for a while and it's all about writing - I don't do anything about technique. And then there are other times when the only thing I work on is technique. But I devote several hours a day to music in some capacity. When I was younger all my time was spend towards just trying to master the fingerboard - all the scales, all the chords, all the mechanics of it. But I'm not at that point anymore, so my practice routine is very liquid, and it changes as I change. Do you have a practice "tool-kit" - metronome, tuner, recorder, etc.? Absolutely - I"m a total geek. I recommend this to anyone I'm mentoring. I have a work space. I have a place in my domicile where I go to work. And when I go to that place it is for work and for work only. I don't go there to read magazines, I don't go there to watch television, I don't go there to get on the phone. I go there for one thing and one thing only. It's all about the business. In that place is my computer, my stereo, my recording studio, metronome and everything I need to get anything done right there, right there. I don't have to get up to get anything. I'm lazy by nature so if everything's right there at my fingertips there's no excuse. And whenever I'm on the road I have a portable version of that that goes in my hotel room. It used to be a small Pignose amp and a boom box, maybe a drum machine, but nowadays it's just my laptop. I have it totally decked out for recording software, practice apparati, metronome, tuner, everything in the laptop. I plug my guitar in through a special interface about the size of a cigarette box, and there you go. And it makes my life at home much simpler, too, because my practice area at home is way less cluttered than it used to be. I have a guitar lab here at the house, with specialized recording gear and such. Not a lot of money invested into it, but Pro Tools, and other industry standard stuff. I bring home projects. If I'm sitting in on a buddy's album, or I"m doing low pressure studio work, I prefer it come to me rather than me go to it. I try to have a studio set up, and it all interfaces into the home computer or the laptop. It's your basic home recording studio. Is there one piece of gear you just can't live without? All of it. I'm a real utilitarian kind of cat. If it's not being used, it usually gets gone, so everything in the chain is vital. But if I had to pare it down, I'd say my custom shop Telecaster. That's where it kind of all starts and ends. But as far as pure gear, I'd say the laptop is an essential piece of equipment for any musician nowadays. Are there one or two core ideas that are central to your teaching that you make sure every student learns? The first thing is, be a musician first, guitarist second. Learn how to be the best musician you can possibly be, and you will definitely be satisfied with your guitar playing in the end. The other thing is to learn as quickly as possible to be your own teacher. I"m teaching you to teach yourself; your becoming a player is not my responsibility, it's yours. I'm here to make sure you're teaching yourself how to play. Do you find yourself returning to listen to the artists who inspired you when you first started to play? Always! There's a saying around this quaint little Texas town - "You always dance with the one that brung you." Don't ever forget the guys that came before. One of the first rock guitarists I can ever remember being freaked out by was of course Ace Frehley. (I was freaked out for all the wrong reasons.) Ace set the first bar, and he was knocked out by Tom Scholz. Shortly after I discovered Kiss I became a huge Boston fan; that was kind of a weird turn there. And then the metal thing started happening, and of course Eddie Van Halen consumed my entire life. Matter of fact, he was probably the reason I started playing rock guitar in the first place. I was mired in these classical lessons, listening to a lot of music but not really digging the lessons, then I heard Van Halen I, and I was like, "That's it. That speaks to me. I have to be able to do that." Then the classical guitar got kicked to the curb, and the rest is history, I suppose. If there's a noise made by a guitar, I'm inspired by it. I can tell you guys that I get accused of sounding like, and that's been a hard one to shake. People tell me I sound a lot like Eric Johnson and David Gilmour, and that"s good company. Those are guys I listen to, and I'm a sponge. Eric Johnson was an enormous influence on me in my later years after I started to understand music a little more. I saw him for the first time when I was 18 or 19, and he was one of the first smoking guitar players that I saw. Does your playing change when you change instruments? Yeah, it's like putting on a different costume. I try to be able to make the same noise on all my guitars. You've got a certain tone that lives in your hands. It's gonna come out no matter what instrument you play, and that"s the thing I try to concentrate on - tangible tone that lives in your hands. When you pick up a different guitar, you still have the same tone.That tonal physiology is going to be there, no matter what guitar I'm playing, but I use the guitars to help me get into a stylistic place. My Telecaster makes me want to play country chops; I pick up my 335, and I want to play blues. They kind of put me in character, so to speak. How often, when you're playing, do you find those moments of pure music, when your head is clear, your fingers are working, there are no distractions, and it's just you and the music? That's the orgasm, man. That's the thing you're working towards all night. If you can walk on stage and get that nirvana right away and hold it all night, you"re a way better musician than I am, because that's the thing I work towards every time I step on the stage. I want to go to that place; that's why I'm up there. The quicker I can get there the better. I get there often, because I aspire to it. It's not a fleeting thing, it's an attainable thing every time you hit the stage if you put your mind set to get it. There are other extenuating circumstances that keep you from arriving there, you know, like a bad mix, or a bad club, or a bad gig, but when you go up with that mind set, that at some point tonight I have got to free myself, you'll hit it every time. And when I find myself in one of those moments, I'm getting old and wise enough to cherish it and say, "This is what it's all about." What music would you suggest for your students? As far as guitar players, I want to make sure everyone listens to Joel Gregoire - if you're a young rock guy, you need to listen to this cat. Of course, I'm rooting for a home town guy. He works for NGW, and he's one of the most soulful players; he totally embodies what we're trying to do with this instrument. What sets him apart from other shredders - he's a progressive rock guy - is that he's got the soul of a musician. He's got all the sensibilities. He can walk up on any bandstand and make music with people, he just prefers to play progressive shred. I would say listen to a lot of the institutionalized white blues players, who are well documented. I've got to be honest with people. I didn"t learn from Lightnin' Hopkins; I didn't learn from BB King. I learned from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robben Ford and then I backed up and learned all this other stuff. They were well documented, with stuff we can understand. Robben Ford is the best blues guitar teacher on the planet. I've had classes with him, I've done clinics with him... these guys have taken time to analyze the old guys. You're going to get more with them because they've already sorted it out for you. There's going to be a time in your playing where you stop and pay homage to the old guys, but pay attention to what the new guys are doing because they're the next wave. Anything by Gatemouth Brown, and anything by Robben Ford. And that Steve Vai record "Reflections" is pretty crazy. What are you listening to these days? Do you search out music that's new and unfamiliar to you? At the moment, I have 3 CDs I've been listening to over and over and over again. The sad truth is I don't get to listen to as much music as I'd like to, but that's because I'm making music. In the last week I've come of this hiatus; I'd put in 10 or 11 solid months of work and I had to take a little time off. I was doing some mill work around the house, and I was able to just hammer and listen to music around the house. I listened to Eric Johnson's new one, "Bloom," Steve Vai's new one "Reflections," and NGW instructor Joel Gregoire's new record, "Stride." I really don't anymore listen to a lot of guitar music. When I have time for recreational music, for whatever reason, I'm a really big Charlie Parker fan. When I listen to guitar music, I can't just be a spectator; I'm not having any fun with it. I'm, like, "Can I do that?" Or, "I don't like this, because I can't do that. This guy"s great; I'll never be that good." That kind of mentality. When I listen to that bebop stuff, that"s like me watching the NBA; I can be a spectator and never worry about aspiring to the art. There's something very profound about that era of jazz that I can"t put my finger on, and maybe that's why I'm so enamored of it. So I listen to a lot of that stuff with an educational ear, but I also listen to it going, "This is just good music." I'm not a jazz guy, but that's some great stuff, and I think every musician owes it to themselves to explore that era of music - like it or not, just explore it. Do you have a musical wish list - other instruments to learn, people to play with, artists or styles to explore? Absolutely, man. That goes down with reasons to get out of bed in the morning. So far my entire recording career has been devoted to other people's projects. I've never had the chance to devote all my time and energy to something of my own. So right now at the top of my wish list would have to be the completion of a solo CD, done entirely without a label, entirely without a producer - done entirely everything being my call. That proves to be harder than it looks. Another part of this project is trying to come up with a cohesive group of music that doesn't sound like just a showcase for what I can do on the guitar. It's gotta have some continuity, it's gotta be timeless, it"s gotta speak to people, and it's gotta be something that perhaps my mother might want to listen to. I put a lot of demands on myself because I feel that this is going to be a one-shot, and I want to do it right. Have you ever had a really great teacher? What made him/her so good? What works for me doesn't work for everybody. Some of my best teachers - I didn't know they were my best teachers until many years later - at the time, I could have killed them. They were getting things out of me because they understood that I worked better under pressure, and that I was a little better at my game if I was a little pissed off. The best teachers can find those qualities in people, and work on them. A good teacher can tap into how a student learns immediately, and get results out of him. How do you learn best? Gotta squeeze my head a little bit and say, "Listen! This is it!
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