What were you doing at the age of 12? Possibly playing video games, D&D or even Pokemon cards, at least in my case I was, but guitar player Josh Smith was already touring and playing gigs. Having grown up in Florida, Josh was exposed to many types of music but it was his parents taste in music that ultimately influenced his style and love for jazz and blues. Starting to play guitar at the early age of 6, Josh was destined to be the virtuostic guitar player that he is today. Not only has he played at shows worldwide, but has been featured in Billboard Magazine, played with Mick Jagger at The Grammy Awards and met the blues god, B.B. King. Check out this exclusive interview with one of the worlds best blues guitar player as we caught up with him in his personal studio.
TH: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
JS: I’m 38. I was born in Connecticut but grew up in Florida. Lived there from when I was 1 till 22. Started playing guitar when I was 6 years old. Started playing gigs when I was 12 and 13 years old. Mostly blues stuff. That was my passion right away. Luckily my parents liked music, they weren’t musicians though. My dad was way into blues, rock'n roll and jazz and my mom was into soul, R&B and Motown. I heard a lot of good music growing up which was lucky. At the time there was a lot of heavy metal and grunge and not that there’s anything wrong with that stuff but it wasn’t what I was into. So by the time I was 12 or 13 I got pretty good at guitar, I loved it and practiced every minute.
TH: Some people think they have the feeling for it.
JS: Certainly I don’t consider myself in that category. I know I’ve met people in my life and ask how does this happen. So, there’s something to that but I also know how many hours personally I have put in. I have played from the moment I got home from school to when I got to bed. Everyday in my childhood. By the time I got to 12 I was getting frustrated because kids my age normally weren’t good enough to play with me and then also if they were, they weren’t into the music I was into. So, I was kind of looking for an outlet to someone to play with so my parents were smart enough to take me to these open jams and most of them were blues jams and I would sign up and play and people would go crazy because I was a little kid, I was a novelty, but I could play. But, it didn’t matter if I could play, they would go crazy no matter what. That was it, the second I did that for the first time played a solo, had an audience cheer, I knew this is it… this is what I’ll ever do for the rest of my life. So fast forward I end up joining this band of adults because they thought they could book more gigs with this novelty, which was true and we start playing and playing and that’s how you really grow.
TH: Are you still in touch with those guys?
JS: I am. They’re all still around in Florida and that’s how you really grow fast. Once you start working and playing gigs and I was playing with adults who were better musicians than me and were nice guys and took me under their wings and teaching me a lot getting better. Next thing I knew we were making records and touring the states and this is all I’ll ever do for the rest of my life. By the time I was 22, as silly as it sounds, I was completely burnt out. You’re talking 8 years of doing that and I was watching some of my peers start to get successful and I was pissed off about it.
TH: Burnt-out could mean a lot of things. Physically because of touring, mentally because you’re reaching a lot of, "why is it not happening?"
JS: It was a few things. Why is this not happening and also becoming an actual adult and realizing change and I met my wife. I had to make changes to my life. Because up until that point it was like I’ll live in my van, I’ll make $400 a week it doesn’t matter. The other side was that I was good and I had something to say and I started seeing these people I grew up with have success like Derek Trucks and Johnny Lang. These were guys around my age who were getting record deals and I was frustrated that wasn’t happening for me. These other guys I saw were having success and it frustrated me. By the time I was 22, I did want to get married. I was in love we were together for a couple of years and I was like let’s get married and I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t getting any money and she has a daughter, so she’s my stepdaughter and at the time she was 8 years old. I was like man I have to make consistent money. I was like ok let’s move to LA, maybe I’ll give up on this whole artist thing and just be a guitar player. It was just fingers crossed, shot in the dark. We just moved here, got married within a week.
TH: What kind of job did you take?
JS: I worked at a video game company, testing video games. THQ videos. Worked there for a year which was a great job but I hated every minute of getting up and the routine. I worked on a UFC fighting game, red faction, first person shooter game, couple of other games. It was cool but it was my first experience waking up at 7 going to work and all that stuff I hated it. After a year I was doing some sessions and then I got this touring gig with this guy Ricky Fante who was with Virgin Records at the time. He was my first touring gig as a side man where we did all the TV shows when his record came out and radio tour. That was first when I was making enough money to just be a guitar player. And that’s kind of how the next 8 years basically went. I just worked. I toured with him, I toured with Taylor Hicks who won American Idol. And I toured with a bunch of random stuff, different pop things. And I would do sessions and I started doing more and more and the years just flew by and in this business it’s very up and down. I had years where I made a lot of money and then I would have years I made $20,000 for the whole year. That’s the frustrating part of it and then I got this gig with Raphael Saadiq which I technically still play with but he hasn’t toured in many years. That was definitely the most fun and rewarding side man gig I have had since I’ve been here. I have played with him for almost 10 years. That’s almost like a real band. He’s incredible.
TH: Going back to when you were 3 and you got your first guitar and you took lessons at 6, was that something you wanted to do or something your parents pushed you towards?
JS: My parents never pushed me at all. My parents got me the guitar, so you could say that was their choice, but when I was 6 I asked to take lessons. Because I’d been banging it around and I said I want to take lessons. So, they took me to this shop that was in America. There’s Yamaha schools and then there were chains ASM… they had guitar lessons, violin lessons, trumpet lessons they give you books…it was not a scam but they get you in the door and try to get you to buy a guitar and this book package. So I went to this lesson a couple times and they told my dad my acoustic guitar wasn’t good enough and that I needed this $500 guitar. He was like I don’t think this is the right place for my son. So he started taking me to this kid’s house who was a jazz player, who I took lessons from. He was my 1st teacher.
TH: Learning guitar can happen on a lot of levels. When did you start to learn theory?
JS: Oh right from the beginning! The lessons he was hammering into me.
TH: What was it like being offered the position of lead player of Rhino Cats?
JS: I still don’t get the name. What’s funny is that they’re old now. But, they were old to me then. They were single dudes trying to drink and get laid. Here I was trying to play with them. They were nice guys and good musicians, I learned a lot. I was so excited to have regular gigs. We’re playing every Friday. I helped them tremendously. Then it became Josh Smith and the Rhino Cats. All I cared about is that I found people to play with on a regular basis and that’s what I was longing for a long time. My number one goal is to be as good as I could be, and especially then I was so driven.
TH: What’s your creative process like?
JS: It varies. I write it few different ways. Number 1, I’m a guy who has been called a lazy on occasion. But, there’s certain things that when I start a project, I’m opposite of lazy. So when I start something I get super excited. I get like that when I’m writing about something I’m excited about. The other side of it is I don’t like to be told what to write about or to do. It still has to be honest inspiration. The inspiration just has to come. A lot of times I write when I’m traveling. It will be lyrics first. As I’m writing, I’ll have melodic ideas in my head.
TH: What 5 words would you use to describe your album Born Under a Blue Sign?
JS: Shit, young, ambitious, green, excited. I was super excited to be in the studio for the first in my life. I sang for the first time. Scary. Horrible.
TH: How would you compare your early music with your latest work?
JS: Experience, skill, life-learned, life-lived. Nobody was who they were when they were 14, 15, 16.
TH: Do you think your music has become more complex or simpler?
JS: More complex. I hope the feel and goal remain the same. The goal is to be as good as I can be, push myself to get better, find my own voice.
TH: If you could have an hour to talk to anyone from the past who would that be?
JS: I normally say Jimi. But not anymore after watching this documentary on him. I don’t know, I was fortunate enough to meet B.B. King couple of times.
TH: He seemed like a genuine guy.
JS: Definitely. Very polite guy. Probably Stevie Ray Vaughan. He was the reason I decided this has to be what I had to do. Stevie passed when I was 10. I wanted to what he did.
TH: What’s your favorite guitar?
JS: My Chapin T-Bird. It’s been my #1 guitar for 10 years. The black one.
TH: What are you currently listening to right now?
JS: I mostly listen to old music. Of new music I like Julian Lage. I listen to a lot of rock. I like The Brothers Landreth from Canada.
TH: Do you have any tips for aspiring musicians?
JS: #1: Try to find your own voice if you’re an improviser. Don’t worry about learning everything. A lot of people get upset when they can’t do something someone else does. That’s okay. Only learn the shit you want to learn and if it bothers you, you don’t know it, fucking sit down and learn it. Otherwise, it’s ok. #2: take every gig that gets offered to you. Doesn’t matter if you hate the music or if you get offered $25, take every gig. Playing gigs is the quickest way to get better.