Ted Nugent bassist recounts career highlights, including gigs with Billy Joel, Alice Cooper, Vinnie Moore and Ritchie Blackmore
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
August 26, 2013
Greg Smith is a bassist and vocalist, currently working with Ted Nugent. Greg has also performed with some of the biggest names in rock, supplying bass and backing vocals for Billy Joel, Alice Cooper, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Alan Parsons Project, Blue Öyster Cult, Dokken, Tommy James & the Shondells, The Turtles, Felix Cavaliere, Mitch Ryder, Denny Laine, Vinnie Moore, Wendy O. Williams and many others. Greg was also the principal bassist and backing vocalist for the Tony Award-winning Billy Joel and Twyla Tharp musical Movin’ Out for its entire three-year run on Broadway and one year on the road.
FBPO: Tell me about your musical upbringing.
GS: There really wasn’t much of a musical upbringing in my house. Nobody in my family played any instruments or anything. My love for music came from my friend and me stealing his older brother’s albums and bringing them to the basement of my house to listen to. This was the early and mid ’70s, so there was some amazing music we were being turned on to and I became addicted to it. I just wanted to hear more and more from all different bands. Some of those bands we were cranking were Deep Purple, Cactus, The Who, Uriah Heep, Santana, Ten Years After, Bad Company and Led Zeppelin
FBPO: How did you become a bass player?
GS: That’s an interesting story. My sister’s birthday is in April and mine is in May. She got a guitar for her birthday and said, “Let’s start a band! You can play bass.” I said okay, not even knowing what a bass was. Next month, in May, I got a bass for my birthday! We both started taking lessons. She dropped out after less than a month. Within three months of me getting a bass, I was playing in my first band. Within four months, I saved up my paper route money, bought a Ric 4001 and did my first gig. I was very focused and dedicated. I knew this was what I was meant to be doing! I think it was a very lucky thing that my sister chose the bass for me. If she had said piano or drums, I might not have had the natural ability for those instruments that I seemed to have had on the bass.
FBPO: Who were your influences as a young bass player?
GS: Geezer Butler, Gary Thain, John Paul Jones, Geddy Lee, Boz Burrell, John Entwhistle, Tim Bogert.
FBPO: At what point did your career begin to take off?
GS: Growing up in the NYC and Long Island area, I was surrounded by great players, great bands and great music. I launched myself into that scene at the age of 15 and started playing clubs with older musicians while still in high school. I was lucky enough to land a gig with one of the more popular bands in Long Island when I was 17. From there I met, jammed and gigged with as many great musicians as I could.
Things went to a more national level when Gene Simmons saw me playing in a local band in 1983. He liked the way the guitarist and I played together. He was producing Wendy O. Williams’ W.O.W. album and put us both in the band. Wendy O. Williams was my first album and touring experience.
FBPO: Was that the gig that catapulted your career forward?
GS: Aside from that gig, another one that stands out was playing with Vinnie Moore and Joe Franco at NAMM in 1990 or 1991. We were playing a couple shows a day in the Premier Drums booth. Apparently, Alice Cooper had been looking for a guitarist and bassist for his upcoming Hey Stoopid tour. Alice’s A&R man from Epic and his personal assistant saw one of the shows at NAMM. Once again it was a situation where they liked the guitarist and me together.
A couple months after NAMM, I got a call asking if I’d like to play with Alice. Of course I thought it was one of my friends screwing with me. I think I made a wise remark like, “Yeah, okay, it’ll cost ya ‘X’ dollars and send me a ticket!” The reply on the other end was something like, “Okay, that sounds fair.” It didn’t take long to realize it was the real thing!
Within a week or so, I was on a plane to LA. I hadn’t met anyone in the band except for Vinnie Moore. We all met at a soundstage, said our hellos and filmed Alice’s Hey Stoopid video.
FBPO: You’ve played with such a long list of rock luminaries. Can you share a highlight or two from your stellar career? Something that really stands out?
GS: There’ve been many cool moments over the years, but probably the highlight was playing the “12-12-12” Concert at Madison Square Garden with Billy Joel, on the same stage as Paul McCartney, The Stones, The Who, Bruce, etc. Having all those artists watch us at sound check was surreal to say the least!
Meeting Phil Lynott in 1984 in London was another highlight. Just traveling the world, meeting cool people and playing rock & roll has been a blessing and a highlight of my life. Sharing the stage with with guitarists Ted Nugent, Ritchie Blackmore, Brian May, Vinnie Moore, Derek St. Holmes, drummers Carmine Appice, Eric Singer, Mick Brown, Jimmy DeGrasso, Jonathan Mover and Joe Franco, just to name a few of the amazing players I’ve been blessed enough to play with is nothing less than a highlight! I am one lucky mofo!
FBPO: How did you get the gig with Ted Nugent?
GS: I was recommended by Dokken guitarist Jon Levin. Jon and I grew up in Long Island together. We had an original band together in the early ’80s and the only two cover tunes we did were Dokken tunes. In 2003, Dokken was in need of a bassist who could sing. Jon told them I could do the gig and sing all the parts. I came in, owned it, and that was that!
Years later, in 2007, Mick Brown of Dokken was playing drums for Ted Nugent. I got a call from him asking me if I’d be into playing with Ted. I said of course I’d love to play with Ted! Mick asked me if I sang lead and I said yes. His response was, “Good, ‘cuz I told Ted ya did!”
FBPO: Ted Nugent has such a giant personality. Tell me a Ted Nugent story I probably haven’t heard.
GS: Honestly, there is no Ted Nugent story. The same guy you hear on the radio or see on TV is the same guy I get in the dressing room!
FBPO: How would you describe the current tour?
GS: The current tour is great, just like any of the previous tours where it’s Ted solo. We as a band are never complacent. We are always trying to get better. We definitely nitpick a bit backstage, but always in a positive way, trying to make what is already a kick ass show even better!
FBPO: Who’s coming out to the shows? Is it the older folks who remember Ted from way back or are there also lots of young people?
GS: It is definitely a mix. You’ll see quite a few of the old school fans, but I’ve met a lot of young people who have told me they grabbed Mom & Dad’s albums and have become fans. Good music is timeless!
FBPO: So, if Ted Nugent becomes President, will that make you the First Bassist?
GS: Well, I wouldn’t mind an office in D.C., teaching young aspiring bass players how to groove properly!
FBPO: How about the future? What else would you like to do that you haven’t already accomplished?
GS: Hmm… I’d love to jam with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant! I’ve met and hung out with Jimmy a few times over the years. Never let on that I was such a rabid fan, though! Ya never know! And of course I’d like to continue working and traveling with great players and playing for fans that appreciate great music!
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
GS: That’s an easy one. I’ve always loved the outdoors. Where I live, I would think being a ranger in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area would be kick ass! Cruisin’ on a canoe down the pristine Delaware River in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Makin’ sure assholes don’t pollute or kill themselves ’cuz they’re too drunk. Checkin’ out the wildlife. Doesn’t suck. If your office is a canoe? Sounds like a killer job!