G.E. Smith’s Best Bits

G.E. Smith was the Saturday Night Live band leader, from 1985 to 1995
(Photo source: YouTube)

The quintessential in-demand sideman, G.E. Smith has played a significant role in the kind of seminal music happenings that make him the musical equivalent of Forrest Gump. Here are a handful of situations that stand out for the Pennsylvania native.




From left: Daryl Hall and John Oates
(Photo by Gary Harris/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Playing With Daryl Hall And John Oates (1979 to 1985)
“Being with Daryl Hall and John Oates and going from when I joined the band, they were in a little slump. When I joined that band, I was originally getting paid $200 a week. I got $100 to play guitar and $100 to drive one of the station wagons. We were playing joints in station wagons. Within a few months, that all changed. So obviously playing with Daryl and John was major.”

Working With David Bowie (1980)
“He had to do the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. We rehearsed in New York and flew out to Los Angeles. ‘Ashes to Ashes’ was out. It was 1980. I put together a little band for him and we flew out to Los Angeles and did the last 90 minutes of The Tonight Show and Richard Pryor was on the show, so I got to meet Pryor. But then we got to be friends, which was a real treat. We got to be good friends for a couple of years because he was living in New York City and I was living in New York City. He would come over to where I was living. He was such a brilliant guy. That was amazing.”

Being the Saturday Night Live Band Leader (1985 to 1995)
“I did something like 220 episodes, so there were tons of stories. What can I tell you about? Great musical stuff that happened. I came in on ’85, so by ’88, the show had gotten very successful again. I said to Lorne [Michaels] if there was a good or great guitar player in town that’s respected by musicians, would I be able to have them come on and sit in with the band? I said we wouldn’t announce it. We would just have the camera come up and there would be David Gilmour, Eddie Van Halen, Lonnie Mack, Hubert Sumlin, Johnny Winter—all kinds of people. And that turned out to be kind of a nice thing for me—to be able to put these guys on. When I ran into guys from other bands, they’d say, ‘That was so cool that you had this one or that one on.’ Also, I got to play with all those great people. It was fun.”

Touring As A Part of Bob Dylan’s Band (1988 to 1992)
“Playing with Bob was probably my favorite thing because I was a huge Bob fan from when his first record came out. I got his first record right when it came out in ’62 or ’63. I just loved playing with him. I was introduced to him in 1988 by his manager Elliot Roberts. I was just in awe. Bob is not necessarily the most forthcoming guy until you get to know him. I was on the road with him for a year before we ever had a conversation much beyond, ‘What are we going to play tonight? Let’s start with ‘Maggie’s Farm’.’ But then after a year, when he got to know me a little bit, he got to be very open. He’d teach me songs and play me cassette tapes in those days telling me I needed to know about this guy or some song that was recorded in 1928 by people like Blind Alfred Reed, because Bob knows that stuff. He knows more music than anybody.”

Roger Waters
(Photo by Eddie Berman/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Touring With Roger Waters (2010 to 2016)
“From 2010 to 2016, we did The Wall and that was completely different. I wouldn’t even call that a band. That’s a theatrical production. You’ve got to do the same thing every night. You’ve got to hit your mark on the stage and be in the right place. That was a great experience and there were great people in the band like Snowy White. To get to be friends with Snowy was great. Roger travels very well and he makes sure the band travels very well also. We stayed in the best hotels. The English guys do it at a certain high level. The little bit I worked with Mick Jagger, it was the same way-everything was top shelf. That was great with Roger. To get to play places where people don’t necessarily go. You go to Europe and you of course do Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal. With Roger, we also went to Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Croatia. Not everybody goes to those places.”

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