Pennsylvania-born G.E. Smith rose to fame as the lead guitarist for Hall & Oates during their Eighties heyday.
He was also the longtime musical director of Saturday Night Live and has performed with many acts including Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Mick Jagger. Most recently, Smith was one of the four guitarists tapped by Roger Waters to perform on The Wall Live tour.
We caught up with him on July 28, 2013, when the tour hit the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy. In the following excerpt from our current cover story, G.E. sheds some light on what it’s like to play in the greatest live show on earth.
GUITAR WORLD: You play a lot of Roger’s original bass parts on The Wall Live. As someone coming in to express his vision, can you talk a little bit about how you approached his bass-playing style?
As far as Roger’s bass playing, when I first went to learn the record I learned it on acoustic, electric and bass. If you approach a song and learn it like that, you really get inside a song. One thing that became obvious to me as I was learning everything is that Roger is a bass player. He might have written some of the stuff, like “Mother,” on the guitar but some of the other stuff I think he wrote on the bass. I never asked him, but when you learn the bass line and you learn the other stuff, it all builds off of the bass line. It’s just well constructed.
Throughout this European tour you’ve travelled through some amazing locations, some of which were in the middle of political upheaval.
Yeah, we were in Greece when the turmoil was going on in Constitution Square [in Athens]. Our hotel was actually right on the square. So, at night we’d come back to the hotel after the show and go up on the roof to the bar and restaurant. We’d sit there and you could smell the tear gas. But at the same time, that week we were there, I’d go down at three or four in the morning and walk through the square and they’re sitting there drinking beer, playing guitars and singing songs. I saw things that had been burned, newspaper kiosks and stuff, but I got the sense that when CNN and the other news people showed up that they ramped up whatever they were doing. Not that it wasn’t real, because it was.
Outside of this tour, you’ve also accompanied Roger on some trips to work with veterans.
Roger and I went down to Walter Reed Hospital, the military hospital in DC. There were a bunch of vets of Iraq and Afghanistan, young guys that were double and triple amputees, who had figured out a way to play the guitar. There were also some singers, and we put together a band and did a show at the Beacon Theatre in New York. It was really fun and these guys were the greatest. These Marine and Army vets went in the service when they were 18 or 19 and now they're 23 and 24. They’ve been in the hospital for three years or four years. But they still got spirit and they still laugh.
Roger’s obviously passionate about a lot of political issues. As a gigging musician, have you ever turned down a gig because it doesn’t line up with your personal views?
I have an 11-year-old daughter and she’s going to be going to school for a long time. And it’s expensive, so I have to work. Last year I did the Republican National Convention. When they first asked me to do it, I turned it down. And they offered another really good offer, which I turned it down. They came back with one more and I said no. It wasn’t so much political but rather that I had just been away for two years and I wanted to go home. I’d just made a bunch of money so I didn’t feel the pressure. And then they came back with an insane final offer. And I thought, Well not only will this pay for several years of Josie’s school but I can hire six or seven of my friends, and give them a really good pay day too. So we went and played the Republican convention. We may not be Republicans, obviously, but it was really interesting. I got heavy flack from some people for doing it. If you remember, at that time, last August, a year ago, it wasn’t so sure. It was kinda looking like Romney was making a good run for it. So I got some heavy flack for it. But I’m a professional musician and this is what I’ve always done. I’ve been a professional musician since I was 11 years old. It’s what I do: work.
As far as good gigs, you seemed to have hit the jackpot with The Wall Live.
This is a great gig. Not only does it pay great and we stay in wonderful hotels, but the people are great. At times there have been 170 of us out on the road, with the crew, bus drivers and truck drivers, and they’ve all been great people.
Photo: Sean Evans
For more from G.E. Smith, plus our exclusive interview with Roger Waters and more — including Black Oak Arkansas, the Winery Dogs, Marty Friedman, a guide to the most incredible concerts and roadshows in rock and metal history, a holiday gift guide and John Petrucci's monthly column — check out the Holiday 2013 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.