A Few Minutes with… Matt Smith

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As a 13-year-old kid who just got his first guitar, I would go to the library and grab the latest copy of “Guitar for the Practicing Musician.” All of my guitar heroes were there. Rhoads, Vaughan, Clapton and company. I would pour over the latest transcriptions to songs that were entirely above my skill level, trying to pick out the bits and pieces that I could pull off. There were incredibly informative columns by guitar titans like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Steve Morse, Reeves Gabrels and more. One day I learned that one of my favorite columnists, Matt Smith was a local guy. It blew my mind. Here was a local guy playing and writing amongst legends of the guitar. It gave me hope. Like most things I started when I was a kid, I half-assed it and gave up when I couldn’t master sweep picking and pinch harmonics. I always remembered those columns and Matt Smith though.

Fast forward to the present. I am a 45-year-old dude who knows the same four or five chords I knew back when I was 13. I didn’t progress much. The same can’t be said for Matt Smith. He moved to New York City and then on to Austin, Texas, and didn’t slow down. The word prolific doesn’t seem to be fitting enough. In the last 30 years, he has written a ton of instructional books, released instructional DVDs and produced and/or engineered over 100 commercially released albums. Matt has been a session musician, playing just about every instrument you can name. On top of all of this, he has found the time to release 18 albums. This past September he released 8 albums at once. Two sets of brand new material, two live records and a four disc career retrospective. Currently, Matt is running “6 String Ranch,” a music studio/school. Offering classes and seminar with some of the biggest names in guitar. He also runs a FREE YouTube channel from 6 String Ranch. https://6stringranch.com/

This September Matt will be bringing his music back to the Capital District for a series of shows. Nippertown sat down with Matt to catch up and find out more.

I asked Matt what he’s been up to since the last time he came through the area (October 2019). Smith spoke with great pride about a program that he volunteers his time and talents to. The Phoenix Academy is a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Austin for youths 13-17 years old. The school houses a full recording studio. Matt does weekly recording sessions with kids that are successfully participating in the program. As a reward, eight kids are selected to enter the studio with Smith. Within two hours, the groups select a topic, write the lyrics and record the song. Smith then takes the rough mix back to his studio where he properly masters everything. In the past ten years, over 400 songs have been created here. The songs are mostly hip-hop. Matt doesn’t stifle their creativity, but he does have a few ground rules. No glorification of drugs or violence and no use of the N-word. Other than that he encourages the youths to write about what got them into trouble, how they can change, and what they hope to achieve. He teaches the group how to use Garage Band on Mac to create beats and how to record the basic tracks. He gives each of these kids a new skill and gives them a greater gift. Hope.

Another way that Smith uses music to give back is through what he refers to as “Legacy Recordings.” He spoke of his father. As his father got older and was in nursing care, he developed hospital induced dementia. In an attempt to bring him out of this, Smith’s mother started taking her husband to sing karaoke. In singing, he found some clarity. For his 90th birthday, Matt recorded his father singing. When his father passed away, Smith listened to the recordings with his mother. He described how profoundly moving it was to hear his father sing. They came up with the idea of giving this gift to other families. Together they would go to nursing homes and senior centers to make recordings. Some would sing, some would speak and tell stories. Everyone has pictures of their departed loved ones. Having their voices is an entirely different special thing.

On September 7, Smith will hold a full band workshop aiming to help bands write better music. He will bring along his long-time bandmates, Tony Perrino on organ and piano, Chris Peck on bass, Pete Sweeney on drums, Brian Melick on percussion, and Charlie Tokarz on sax and flute. This will be held at Wicked in Clifton Park and hosted by Parkway Music.

Following the workshop, Matt Smith will perform a string of shows across the Capital District. September 8th and 9th will be at Putnam Place in Saratoga Springs. The Strand Theater in Hudson Falls will host the band on September 10. Matt will close out his visit with a performance at Pauly’s Hotel on Saturday, September 11. I can imagine that there will be plenty of surprise guests and extended jams. Check out his music and get out to these shows. It will be nice to have one of our very own come back home again.

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