Since joining Iron Maiden more than 40 years ago, Adrian Smith has toured the world and played to millions of fans. But if you look beyond his time spent on stage, a traveling musician can have a lot of down time.
Smith recently published his first book, Monsters of River & Rock: My Life as Iron Maiden’s Compulsive Angler, which chronicles his love of fishing and how it helps keep him grounded.
You just published Monsters of River & Rock. How did the idea come about?
“I was sitting around with friends one evening, just talking stories, and somebody said I should write books. That was the seed of it, really. So I did a couple of test chapters.
“I’d already written a few things I was going to send to fishing magazines, but I never did. I took them out and sent a few test chapters to some publishers and got some feedback from [the publisher]. That was it – I started off writing.”
Why a fishing book and not a scathing, tell-all book about the people you’ve dealt with in the music business?
“I don’t think I could do that. It’s just not my personality. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of doing a book in the future purely on life in music. This started off as a 100-percent fishing book.
“As I went on, I found there were parallels with my two passions of fishing and music. I found I was combining them more. I’d say it’s probably 70 percent fishing and 30 percent is stories from the road, the studio and personal stuff.
“I don’t think at this point I would do an autobiography on purely music. The publisher thought it would be interesting to do sort of a cross-over style.”
You’ve written many songs over the years. Do you feel anxiety over presenting your written work? We know you as Adrian Smith the musician. Writing a book is, I would imagine, a completely different window into the world of Adrian Smith.
“It’s very easy to write. I enjoy the process of looking back over my life and reflecting on the changes I’ve seen. There’s some quite personal stuff in there about the highs and lows of being in a successful band and touring, especially in the '80s when it was kind of crazy with drugs and alcohol and stuff like that. Just wild times.
“But it took me back to fishing – when things got a bit rough. I was able to take a bit of time off. For example, after the Powerslave tour, which was almost 13 months of straight touring, we were all kind of fried. I remember sitting in a hotel room in LA after that just being zonked out, and my girlfriend, now my wife, suggested we take a trip to Canada.
“That forms the basis of one of the chapters in the book. It is sort of restoring to me going out in the wilderness to just sit in a boat in the middle of a lake with no man-made sounds and just cast out a fly. It just did me the world of good. That led me to thinking about how fishing is a great balance for the crazy times you have sometimes in a successful band.”
You talked in the book about fishing as a youngster, then getting away from it when you got a little older and getting heavily into music and the guitar. Fishing is obviously quite different from the madness of touring. Was it hard for you when you rediscovered fishing to kind of let yourself relax, or was that an easy thing to kind of get back into?
I think the difference is if you go on holiday and you’re sitting on a beach. I’ve never liked that. I’d like to be doing something. I use a line from a famous Scottish comedian, Billy Connolly. He said fishing is like meditation, but with a punchline.
“In other words, you can get totally absorbed in the process of fishing. You get all your stuff ready and go out and find a nice, quiet spot. Then you get the excitement of maybe contacting something big and wild on your line as well. So it is that excitement. It definitely balances you out.”
You often hear the joke that they call it fishing and not catching. Do you enjoy the days when you’re out there maybe in your chest waders in some cold stream trying to catch a trout and maybe you come up empty? Is that still enjoyable or are you more about the thrill of the catch?
“It’s all about being out there for me. You know, it’s nice to catch a fish and that is the point of the exercise. But it’s the journey you go on to do it and the places you visit. I’ve been lucky enough to fish all over the world and not always successfully, but sometimes you can just enjoy being out.
“I mean, I could walk for miles along a river without fishing just looking at the pools, looking under the bushes and just looking for fish. I just love being out there. The moving water just does something to me. It’s just good for the soul.”
When you look at a tour itinerary do you think I’m going to be here, here and here, I could sneak away and go two hours east on this day and hit this river or on this off day I could hit Lake So-and-So that might be on your fishing bucket list for lack of a better term?
“Yeah, absolutely. I think you have to. Let’s face it, we’ve been touring for a long, long time. These days it is slightly less at about three months a year. But even so, you have to have a balance. Otherwise, it’s just two hours of fun on stage and 22 hours of killing time.
“So, yeah, it’s great. You know, some of the guys play golf. I mean, I remember when we toured with Judas Priest back in the '80s and Glenn [Tipton] and KK [Downing] used to go off and play golf on days off, which we thought was strange.
“They used to turn up backstage in their golf gear before they went on. Then the next time you would see them they would be in their leathers and stuff. They had it worked out and you have to have the balance between work and play. There’s a chapter in the book called 'Sturgeon and Falling Over in Vancouver.'
“I was in Vancouver sometime around maybe 2015, something like that. We played the show and I remember it because I actually fell on my ass on stage in the middle of Fear of the Dark.
“We were doing this big instrumental bit and the lights were blazing. There were 15,000, 20,000 people out there and the other guys still used guitar leads. I was wireless in those days and have been for years. But Dave Murray went behind me and his roadie forgot to let out the lead on his guitar and it was stretched taut behind me.
“I moved backwards without looking and down I went. That is a very, very peculiar feeling falling over in that situation. So, I just got that in the book. Then the next day I decided I wanted to check out the frozen river at a place called Chilliwack [British Columbia].
“So I hired a car, went up there, hired a guide and just went out sturgeon fishing. We caught two sturgeon topping 100lbs. That was a great weekend. I do look at itineraries and maybe think about cramming in a bit of fishing.”
Do you get recognized much when you’re fishing? I mean, obviously when you’re outside of a venue or in a hotel people might be swarming around looking for autographs. Do you find yourself tucked away somewhere at a lake and have people kind of come up? Or can you get away with a ball cap and some polarized glasses?
“It does happen, but usually people of my generation that aren’t crazy teenagers. So they might come up and say, how’s it going or that they may have seen you at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1985 or something. They are very cool about it.
“One time I was in Ireland, I was actually fishing with my dad, in the west of Ireland on a river called the Rogue River. We were trout fishing and some kids from the local village recognized me. I saw that they were following me, but they were very shy.
“Then I was fishing. I looked up and I could see them on a bridge, and they were waving an album that they wanted me to sign. I said why didn’t they come down.
“And I came out of the river and I was signing their album. It was Number of the Beast. As I was doing that these two Irish nuns came along the river and they came over to see what all the fuss was about.
“I will never forget, one of them picked up The Number of the Beast and it’s got Eddie and the devil. I’m like, oh, my God she’s going to drag me straight to the church and hear my confession. But she just laughed. She thought it was great and went on her way.”
You’ve had a signature-model guitar with Jackson for years. Would you ever consider doing any signature fishing gear?
”Yeah, I’ve got some ideas about stuff unique to me that I’d like to do. I haven’t been approached by anyone as yet. I could certainly think of a few ideas over the years that I’ve come up with out of necessity for my own fishing.
“Maybe I could give something back there and help some other people with some items of gear. That’ll be fun.”
Monsters of River & Rock: My Life as Iron Maiden’s Compulsive Angler (BMG Books, 2020) is available now.