Denver Bar Association
June 2007
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7 Questions about being a Sideman with G.E. Smith

by Matthew Crouch

A decade of directing and performing with the Saturday Night Live band is just the tip of the iceberg for legendary guitarist G.E. Smith. His fingers and remarkable ears quest for perfection in every song, while his passion, skills and dedication have seen him working alongside some of the greatest artists in the world. Recognizable for his locks of blonde hair, G.E. has just released his new video "50 Watt Fuse," explaining the back-story of becoming one of the best "sidemen" in the music industry. Fender Guitars created a signature model Telecaster named after him. G.E. lives in the Big Apple with his equally talented wife, director and producer Taylor Barton, and their beautiful 5-year-old daughter. For more information, go to http://www.greenmirror.com/.

Denver Docket: How did you become a guitarist?

G.E. Smith: I started playing when I was really little. I grew up in Pennsylvania in this little old town. There were not a lot of opportunities to be in bands because there were just not enough guys. My buddy Eric — another great guitar player — and I had to wait until his little brother was about 10 years old, then we bought him a bass and made him learn the bass so we could have a bass player in our band. Now there are zillions of guitar and bass players and drummers, but there weren’t in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

DD: Where did you get your experience?

G.E.: I took work with whomever I could. Anybody. Just to play. My experience was being the sideman. I was very fortunate in doing that because I learned all different kinds of songs. I used to play at this lodge with the orchestra, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I was 14, and the rest of the people in the band were jazz people who did this kind of a gig for money and were twice my age; they were professionals. The bass player, Steve, would shout out the changes to me — not every change, just enough for me to strum along and try and keep my head above water. So I got a great education.

DD: What exactly is a sideman?

G.E.: It is backing up the singers and other musicians. Unlike many other guys I grew up with, my focus was not on soloing, but it was on the song. Being a sideman is about the structure of the song. It was more of the support role for the song. The vocal line and the bass line in particular.

DD: The closest thing that the legal profession has to a sideman is a "Second Chair" or co-counsel. What do you think is the hardest part about being a sideman?

G.E.: The hardest part is always the social and political things that go on like with any group of people. To be able to be assertive without being ugly about it is hard. You just want to play, but at the same time you are not going to be overshadowing the people who you are working with. Your job as a sideman is to make them sound as good as possible.

DD: Did what you learned as a sideman help you become a front man?

G.E.: Absolutely. You bring your experience with you as you grow whether you are a lawyer, firefighter, guitarist or whatever you do. I have often thought that being in a band is like being on a baseball team. It is a joint effort. Some of the best bands are a joint effort. There always are a couple of the guys who are the stars, but it has to be a team effort. An interesting facet of that is that you can take four or five people and individually they are all good, but something happens when they get together. It is one of those "greater than the sum of its parts" things.

DD: Was it a challenge for you to have been a sideman for musicians like Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger?

G.E.: Yes! I was and am a huge fan of those two guys. One of the first records I owned was Bob Dylan’s first album when it came out in 1963. I was 11 at the time. The album had a guy on the cover with a guitar and I could understand that. When I got to play with him I was excited, of course. It was a great honor. It was an opportunity to use everything that I had learned over the years to support what he was trying to do at the time. The song is the most important thing. I always try to find ways to deliver the song.

DD: What is your favorite law and why?

G.E.: Oh, man. I don’t know because to me the law is such a case-by-case kind of thing. Probably the law that says little kids are supposed to go to school. I am trying to be positive here. I have always found that freedom is a personal choice and the law has nothing to do with it. Bob Dylan has the best line about the law, "To live outside the law, you have to be honest."

Author’s note: This interview gives voice to all of people behind the scenes in life. I know at my firm that I can’t live without them — the colleagues, front desk and support staff.


Matthew Crouch is an associate attorney at Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison and Lewis and can be reached at (303) 298-7392.


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