The Hammer Smith Band brings harmonica-powered show
October 9, 2009
Steamboat Springs — Blues harmonica player Chris “Hammer” Smith promises stage acrobatics beyond what a audience might expect from the standard bar gig:
“What I do is this major juggling act between singing and playing guitar and playing harmonica. It’s pretty wild, I’ve got harmonicas going everywhere,” Smith said. His band – a three-piece blues group called The Hammer Smith Band that has made several stops at The Tugboat Grill & Pub through the years – plays at 9 p.m. Thursday at Ghost Ranch Saloon. Admission is $5 at the door.
In the 40 or so years since he first picked up a harmonica, Smith has shared recording credits with Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Smokey Robinson, Sammy Hagar and Dolly Parton and has spent time as the warm-up band on the NBC-aired “Real People” show.
He brings five albums worth of original material to the live show, along with session experience and a passion for the blues. Smith talked with Explore Steamboat about how he started on harmonica and his storied music history:
EXPLORE STEAMBOAT: What made you pick up harmonica as your main instrument?
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CHRIS “HAMMER” SMITH: I don’t know, I just really gravitated toward it. I went on a surfing trip and just fell in love with it and started playing it all the time, and started buying the different keys. I went through all my albums : and wrote down the key that every song was in and just played along with them and just fell in love with it.
EXPLORE: Were you already a blues fan, or did playing harmonica bring you around to that music?
CS: I liked blues, but I didn’t really know very much about it. The fact that I had just started playing harmonica : and one of my really good friends had a blues band, and he just kind of showed me : the 12-bar blues progression. : And I just gradually got more and more into the blues until, by ’71 I was really starting to play in multiple blues clubs, and my good buddies, too. That’s what we would listen to, we would put on Buddy Guy records and we were just so into it. We were like, ‘Man, you’ve got to hear this!’
EXPLORE: After you got a solid footing with your playing and left the band that was on the “Real People” show, what happened from there?
CS: I split off with the band and started doing my own thing, and I fortunately met Lee Oscar (the harmonica player for the band War). : He really liked my playing, and he had just been organizing his business after playing with War; he wanted to start a series of schools, like a chain of schools for harmonica, and he wanted me to be a teacher. :
A few months went by, and all of the sudden I get this call just as I was leaving my house. : I answer the phone, and (someone says) that Michael Jackson wants you to play harmonica on his record. And it’s like, ‘What?’
There’s three Michael Jacksons. There’s the guitar player Michael Jackson, and there’s an English radio show host Michael Jackson, so I’m flipping through my mind which Michael Jackson. : I went over and did a track on ‘Say Say Say,’ and the production guy says, this is going to be a good thing for you because this is a duet with Paul McCartney. From that point on I started getting really into my solo career.