Jeff Beck’s newest bass ace tells FBPO about working with the British guitar icon, as well as the gig with Prince and her own solo projects
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
July 12, 2010
Rhonda Smith is a bassist, vocalist and songwriter, critically acclaimed for her musical abilities in various genres, including smooth jazz/funk to electrified funk/rock. Smith, who hails from Canada, studied jazz performance at McGill University in Montreal, after which she toured throughout Canada with several high-profile Canadian artists, including Claude Dubois, Daniel Lavoie and Joanne Blouin. She is the recipient of a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for her work with Jim Hillman and The Merlin Factor.
In addition to her long tenure as bassist and vocalist for Prince, Rhonda has also performed with Chaka Khan, Beyonce, T.I., Erykah Badu, Patti Austin, Patrice Rushen, Larry Graham, Little Richard, Najee, Candy Dulfer, George Clinton and many others.
Rhonda has been featured in numerous music videos, graced the covers of Bass Player and Bassics magazines and done stints with the Martin Short Show and the Wayne Brady Show. She has released two CDs as a leader, Intellipop and RS2. Rhonda is currently touring with Jeff Beck.
FBPO: Tell me about your musical upbringing. What were your earliest musical influences?
RS: My siblings played instruments and I was the youngest so there was always music in our house. My mother listened to lots of jazz and jazz singers so that was great to hear and appreciate. My influences at that time were rock, jazz and fusion.
FBPO: What made you settle on the bass?
RS: One of my brothers brought a bass home and told me not to touch it…
FBPO: As a native Canadian, how would you describe your experience at McGill University?
RS: It was great! I was able to participate and perform in their jazz combos and big band programs, along with having upright/arco lessons with great classical teachers.
FBPO: How did you get the gig with Prince?
RS: Sheila E. is to blame! [laughs] She thought Prince should check me out.
FBPO: You were with Prince for a long time. Do you have any good stories about your experience in his band?
RS: Knowledge is power and a great story. I couldn’t help but learn a lot from him. He’s still the greatest performer, musician and business mind in the game today. When he speaks, you should listen and respect the music.
FBPO: What’s it like being a female in a position that’s traditionally been dominated by men?
RS: Actually, I don’t really think about it much. I try to get along with everyone and, in most situations I’ve worked in, the men have been super cool.
FBPO: Tell me about your solo CDs, Intellipop and RS2.
RS: Fun projects that I like to do every so often. Lots of bass, different basses, different voices, but not just bass. I’m looking forward to the new one!
FBPO: How did you get the gig with Jeff Beck? What’s it like working with him?
RS: Narada Michael Walden recommended me for it. He thought we would be good together. It’s a wonderful experience. I’ve always been a fan of Jeff, but he’s absolutely amazing! His sound, his technique… And it doesn’t hurt that he’s the nicest guy in the world, along with Narada, Jason (Rebello) and the rest of the touring family.
FBPO: Any insight as to why he only seems to be hiring female bass players lately?
RS:: No, I think that’s a question for him to answer.
FBPO: You’ve already accomplished so much in your career, yet you’re still pretty young. What else would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?
RS: Probably tour with my own group, Karma Deuce, a little more than I’ve been able to. It’s always fun.
FBPO: What do you like to do that’s not necessarily musically oriented?
RS: Cook, sleep…