Multi-talented musician Micheal Smotherman talks about Captain Beefheart, Willie Nelson and music industry

"My hope for the future is that all types of music will go back to being judged on what it sounds like, but my fears are that it won't..."

Micheal Smotherman: Storyteller Blues 

Micheal Smotherman is an American singer, songwriter and producer, who also played keyboards and percussion. Michael Smotherman's two self-titled albums are from the late 70's (1977) into the early 80's (Epic Records, 1982). His current album “King of Brooklyn” (2014) follow a rich career and experiences in the music industry. Micheal's songs have been recorded by the likes of Roger Miller, Glenn Campbell, Kenny Rogers, Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Rait, Earl Thomas Conley, The Allman Brothers, Deana Carter, Lila McCann, Trace Adkins and Brooks & Dunn. It was upon meeting fellow songwriter, producer and former member of the group Bread, Robb Royer, that the focus style and direction was achieved for Micheal's third album, "Conjure Man" (2001). A few of Micheal's credits: Toured with Captain Beefheart and was member of rock band Buckwheat at early 70s. Writer of more than ten #1 songs on the Country charts, also wrote numerous songs for film & TV.

Micheal says among others: “I started out musically playing in a local Western Swing outfit that my mother ran when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. I switched to electric piano at around fourteen and started my first raggedy-ass rock and roll band with some other guys from high school...one of our first gigs was a teen club somewhere up in Texas, where we had to have a police escort out of town because some pissed off high school football players who felt they'd wasted their money on tickets were waiting in ambush at the Dairy Freeze to whip our asses...I went to California right out of high school with a well known band out of Oklahoma City that was actually pretty decent, especially considering the time and place... I literally stumbled into a keyboard gigs with Captain Beefheart, which is a whole other story...after that whole thing lurched to an ignominious halt, I was hanging around a big country music venue out in the Valley, and again literally ran into Roger Miller, a huge star at the time and coincidentally from my hometown...one of my major heroes...”

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from your experience in the “Rock n’ Roll culture” and industry?

I learned many varied things, including tolerance for other cultures and musical styles and an appreciation for good music of all types...also, there were so many wild and crazy things that we did and just happened that I don't think happen much anymore...and they were priceless fun, what I can remember of it...I think it was Leon Russell who said, "There are two types of music...good, and bad"...

How do you describe Micheal Smotherman sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I really don't know how to answer that...a critic for Billboard Magazine once described my music as "Randy Newman meets Roger Miller at Ray Charles' house in New Orleans"...as far as my musical philosophy, it's easy...if it feels good, do it...

"I miss the realism and heart in the great old stuff...nowadays it's all what we used to call 'plastic', no heart or soul, corporate financed, produced, and packaged, and it's all about what you look like..." (Photo by Robert Matheu, 1982)

What were the reasons that you started the Psychedelic Folk/Roots/Swing searches and experiments?

Well, I didn't really...I have no personal experience with Psychedelic Folk or Swing music...I do consider myself somewhat of a roots guy however, and have many friends involved in that, Steve Earl being a prime example...we are friends and fellow writers, share the same basic philosophies and I have played Hammond B-3 on many of his and his friends' CDs in Nashville...

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

That's a tough one, there have been so many...I can't really pick out just one...the best advice I was ever given in my opinion was from Ray Charles, who said, "Just follow your heart, brother...everything else will fall in place"

Are there any memories from Captain Beefheart and Willie Nelson which you’d like to share with us?

HA!...Captain Beefheart...Lordy, Lordy...that's a whole novel in itself, and there is not nearly enough room here...if you want, we can do a follow up interview about just my experiences with him...I'll be frank with you and tell you that I am not and never have been a fan of Don's music...I was a young starving musician one balogna sandwich away from the street, and I desperately needed the job...I knew who he was, but I'd never actually heard any of his music, that didn't even enter into it...I just needed the gig...I found his whole thing fraudulent frankly, and the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing were very cynical and venal...however, having said that, I must say that I have a great deal of respect for what he has accomplished...to have any success in this racket is a feat in itself...Willie Nelson on the other hand is one of the realest guys that I have ever had the pleasure to meet...he is humble, funny, ultra-talented, and grounded...he has cut several of my songs, for which I am extremely proud and very grateful for...I would like to say that I hope I followed his example and kept both my feet one the ground...well, one anyway...

"I really don't know how to answer that...a critic for Billboard Magazine once described my music as "Randy Newman meets Roger Miller at Ray Charles' house in New Orleans"...as far as my musical philosophy, it's easy...if it feels good, do it..." (Photo: Michael 'Bucky' Smotherman with Ty Grimes and Dean Smith, Captain Beefheart's European & US touring band, circa 1974)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the realism and heart in the great old stuff...nowadays it's all what we used to call "plastic", no heart or soul, corporate financed, produced, and packaged, and it's all about what you look like...my hope for the future is that all types of music will go back to being judged on what it sounds like, but my fears are that it won't...

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

That the music will go back to being judged by what it sounds like (I said that already, I know)...

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

When I have an adult beverage or three and want to laugh out loud, I watch W.C. Fields and listen to Richard Pryor...my old pal Bonnie Bramlett recently did a stellar recording of the classic Julie London torch song "Cry Me A River", and it touched me deeply...tears in my eyes, actually...

What is the impact of music on the literary? What is the difference and similarities between lyrics and poem?

Michalis, I don't know how to answer the first one, truly...your guess is as good as mine, and in fact better probably...to me the main difference in lyric and poem, although they are of the same family, is that poems have many different styles and meters that would be difficult to put to music...well, for me anyway...

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I think it is varied and wide-spread...rap for instance has become a whole cultural lifestyle, the likes of which I have never seen before, although I guess you could say the same about the early rock and roll culture in general...I know it scared my folks to death...as far as a time machine, I think I would like to go to Woodstock knowing what I know now...I didn't go to the original, wasn't really interested...in those days I didn't care much for "hippie" music, I was more of an R&B guy (Sam and Dave, Otis, Wilson Pickett etc.)...although there was a great deal of music there that I didn't and don't care for, I think it would be fun to experience the spontaneity and the overall innocence of it...no corporate bullshit, sponsors, etc...on the other hand, it might be a giant drag...who knows?...

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