Kent Smith: played with The Rolling Stones!
By Dani Felt (March 1, 2018)
- What was the starting point of your music career?
The start was from the moment I knew I wanted to do this for a living. That was probably around the time I was saw the Stan Kenton Orchestra, a strong band at that time. The bombast and extreme dynamics were very appealing to a 13 year old male. As soon as I was qualified and able to work jobs, I was happy to do them, the earliest being polka bands and swing bands. Typical venues were barn dances, ballrooms, and firehouses in the midwest. I started my first jobs late in HS and took what managed to come my way during college years.
- What was the moment in your career where you no longer had to fight for work and became well known for your unquestionable talent?
There is a healthy supply of qualified talent out there. I am an instrumentalist of above average skill but far from being a virtuoso, so there have been good years and lean years. The ability to network, hustle up leads, get along with people, be dependable, look presentable, and having some knowledge of all styles is essential. You can be the most talented performer on your instrument but if you’re perceived as undependable the folks booking talent won’t risk hiring you. Luck of timing is helpful, being in the right place at the right time and capitalizing on it. I’m speaking from the standpoint of being a working freelance professional, not as a solo artist, which is a completely different ball game.
- At any point whilst studying had you imagined you’d get to the level your (you’re) at and managed to work with some of the people that you have?
When I arrived in NY in the early 80’s and spent some time surveying the local scene I saw a huge void in the pop horn part of the recording business. I was young and competitive and knew I could write and throw down tracks that would be better than those being done in NY at the time. The stuff coming out of Los Angeles was fierce. I didn’t stand a chance out there! In the 80’s there were still some recording acts that wanted horn parts on their records.
- If your children wanted to follow the same career path as yourself, what advice would you give them?
A few years back I wouldn’t have encouraged performing arts for the moderately talented. It is not a great business for financial security and family life. However, now I would say follow your heart. Today the economy and one time legitimate corporate businesses are in the doldrums, probably for good as we are in a business paradigm shift. If you have to do music, go for it, as it’s no better or worse than anything else out there.
- What were some of the key steps you took in order to play with The Rolling Stones?
Prep! Once I was fortunate to score an audition with my horn group we committed the 10-15 audition tracks to memory. I felt it might have been off-putting to be reading music in the presence of the band. Most pop/rock acts aren’t schooled in the academic sense. Our group had already been together for a few years so we were tight with a good blend which, fortunately, the band could hear. We certainly didn’t look the part! We erroneously figured they’d want guys who looked like rockers for the staging. We were relatively clean cut studio nerds! They didn’t expect dance steps or any of that nonsense horn sections are often subjected to.
- Tell us about some of the adventures you have had whilst sharing a tour bus and stage with the legendary Rolling Stones?
Fortunately bus travel was at a minimum. This blew away my romanticized notion of the crowded bus with everyone’s guitars out smoking pot! The band did most of its travel by charter aircraft. We always stayed at the best hotels. They treated us like kings. You never had to reach into your pocket for anything. Really cushed! Of course this only applies to a select few remaining supergroups so it was a total non-reality for me, but very much appreciated. The band traveled to and from the shows with a police escort. This was a never ending source of amusement to us and we had great fun rating and comparing the escorts between various cities. One funny incident I remember was way out at a festival site. The backstage catering was running short on ice and next thing I know there’s a police escort bringing in a fresh shipment of ice! On stage it was a trip to look out over the crowd and see 50-100,000 plus customers. I would love to tell you more, but we signed a non-disclosure clause in the contract!
- How often do you practice with the Rolling Stones?
When the Stones decide to mount a tour it’s always on a massive scale. Usually the core band rehearses a few weeks and then adds the backing singers and horn section for a few more weeks. Once the actual tour commences there are no more rehearsals unless they decide to try out a few different tunes along the way to add to the set list.
- Do you have any other projects currently in the works?
We’re always working on something here. Nothing as massive as the Stones right now, perhaps a show here, or a club gig there. I also do some Pro Tools work, editing, recording, etc., also a bit of teaching.
- Has the attitude of the people working behind the scenes changed drastically in the last 10,20 or 30 years? If so, how and what would you say the reason for this is?
Most A&R people have entered new fields. Recording studios, engineers, etc. are probably hurting. Anyone with a laptop can record, edit, mix, and produce CDs and MP3 files for upload. Manufacturers of audio equipment have got to be feeling the crunch. You can basically set up a recording studio for a few bucks. There is decent audio software for share or free. I don’t even need to mention all the internet resources for self promotion. It will be really interesting to see where this all leads over the next few years.
- The general belief nowadays is that the music industry is all about the money. But without musical talent, a good voice or a creative mind, how would the industry survive? Where do you stand on this?
The music business is a business. Investors understandably want to see a profit. Ever since the advent of MTV in the 80’s audio takes a back seat to image. There are flash in the pan acts that via shrewd management, luck, and hustle, may see a momentary profit until the fad runs its course and the public moves on to the next act. Having said that, many of our popular acts are there for a reason. Even “artists” that I don’t particularly connect with tend to exhibit something unique. The talented ones, or performers gifted with the “it” factor are able to reinvent themselves, hold onto their fan base, and thrive.
- Are there any artists that you wish you could work with that you have not yet had the opportunity?
Yes. Unfortunately they have all long since shuffled off this mortal coil!
- Which artist has been your favorite to work with? And would you say that it is down to attitude, talent or both?
Rolling Stones of course. It’s wonderful to be part of something that touches so many people. Even with all the staging and effects, bottom line is that they take their music very seriously. They treat the supporting musicians with kindness and respect, something you don’t always find in show business.
- Who has had the biggest influence on your musical career and what person has impacted your career the most?
I would have to give that to my parents. They always had quality music on in the house and encouraged me to be involved in music with piano and trumpet lessons as well as involvement in school music programs. Once the bug bit they encouraged me to pursue a career in music, and they were both FBI agents, not hippies!
- In your career so far, what are your proudest moments?
I was very happy when I heard playback on tracks my horn group wrote and performed. When the parts came back sounding great and working with the vocals, rhythm, etc. I know we had a winning combination. We had the opportunity to work with luminaries including Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Sheryl Crow, and many others. I was particularly happy to appear on sessions for Scritti Politti, my favorite recording act at the time. Later on, I was on cloud nine when we were offered our first Rolling Stones tour.