New CD Release "On the Nature of Strings," an original swing guitar instrumentals CD.
THe CD is available in the Store.
Hot Club of Cowtown won 2015 Best Western Swing Group at the 2nd Annual Ameripolitan Awards.
New CD release
On The Nature Of Strings is my new instrumental CD. I wrote and recorded all of the songs during 5 recording dates between May and October 2014. JD Pendley was very helpful in ironing out the second or sometimes third guitar parts and contributed to some of the arranging ideas. He takes some great solos on here too! Buck Johnson kept everything steady and swinging from behind the drums and Jake Erwin joined in on the upright bass.
We recorded at Fort Horton Studios just outside of Austin, Texas where Billy Horton engineered the sessions in a warm, ambient, vintage style reminiscent of a late 50s Capitol or Pacific Jazz record. I intend to make a run of vinyl early next year as it is my favorite format and this record would sound great on a turntable.
There are a few different approaches in the writing and performance here. Most of the songs are on electric but two are acoustic guitar. On Dead Reckoning and Passing Lane, I play two parts at once using a technique I've developed over the years with 6ths. Fast twin guitar lines between me and JD are all over the cd with Baby Steps reaching the outer jazz perimeter and Knucklehead influenced by Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West. Pet Names is played on my 1928 Gibson L-5. It is sort of a mix of Django Reinhardt meets Grady Martin on a Marty Robbins Record. At least that is what I was going for! Deep Pockets is just me with my 6 string Ouija board L-5 conjuring up Eddie Lang or maybe Arthur Rubinstein. I used the 1937 Gibson EH-150 on all of the electric tracks. Hope you like what you hear!
Austin TX 10/14
Whit Smith in the News
The April 2015 issue of Vintage Guitar Magazine, is out on news stands now and my new CD, On The Nature Of Strings gets a great review.
Also, download the PDF of this great feature article in Guitar Magazine, "Seven Steps to Swing Heaven."
SIGN UP FOR SKYPE LESSONS
I've been giving guitar lessons through Skype for over a year now and it is working great. Contact me to set up one or more lessons. I like a few weeks notice when possible.
Normal hours are Mon through Friday 9 AM to 4:45 CMT and lessons take an hour. Contact me for the possibility of a weekend or later hour.
The focus is generally swing guitar but of course can include practical music theory and how that applies to guitar. Most lessons are based on a swing song we choose together and expand on.
The goal for me is after every lesson you have something new under your fingers to play and maybe some more stuff to tinker with or think about.
Check out: Whit Smith Western Swing Rules #5 on YouTube for a sample of a lesson that is more theory oriented but very useful right away and fun!
Payment is $60 by Paypal after the lesson.
I was born in Connecticut and lived in New Canaan and Wilton as a child. I moved to Wellfleet (Cape Cod) MA. in time for high school and consider it as, "where I'm from."
My parents both played and sang and living amongst all that music definitely influenced the path I chose in becoming a musician. In the beginning I played rock and roll.
My buddies and I had a jammin rock and roll band on Cape Cod and we played everyday after school and parties on the weekends. Those were wild times and we grew up very quickly. I always wrote original rock tunes back then. Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen and Keith Richards were my primary favorites. Funny thing was, we seemed to live in a time and place that frowned on this. There was no classic rock radio yet. Our friends loved it but I envy the opportunities people have today when starting a band. (Band photo circa 1985: Tim Low on guitar, Dave Fanelli on drums, Chuck Smith on bass, and me.)
I drifted around for several years. I always would play the guitar and I would take a lesson with anyone I could. I took classical piano lessons one summer just because I liked the teacher so much. His name was Dowel Multer and he was brilliant. He could articulate and align music theory into a beautiful practical tool. He was also a wonderful musician. I simply heard him play a scale one day and knew I needed to study with him!
As my interests evolved I pursued another great teacher, Bill Connors. I lived with my grandmother in Bayside Queens for a year and would make the journey into New York City to take a "Jazz Lesson." I was a terrible student and yet Bill was patient with me. My grandmother was skeptical about this. She would go over some of the material with me that I'd bring home and see if she could make heads or tails of this stuff. We had 3x5 note cards taped up in the kitchen and bathroom with: IONIAN, DORIAN, FRIDGIAN, LOCREAN... etc., OR TONIC, SUB-DOMINANT… etc. She insisted that Bill write out a formal report card. I still have it!
It is true that I would record myself playing scales then some days I would go to my grandmothers attic as if I were going to practice but I'd play the tape instead. Meanwhile I'd space out or look at a comic book. I so wish I would have had better discipline back then! Nevertheless, Bill taught me much and I still consider many of the ideas he imparted to me.
I eventually moved into Manhattan and really started trying to become a professional musician. I was very fortunate to be down in Greenwich Village working at Matt Umanov's and meeting famous guitarists and being exposed to great opportunities.
I simultaneously met Danny Gatton, (who pointed me to many great country jazz players and recordings) and Tom Clark, a New York underground legend who pioneered the NYC alt country scene before it existed as a comfortable suburban musical neighborhood in the fuzzy world of Americana. Tom gave me a gig and a chance to develop my skills and eccentric stylings. He encouraged a no holds barred, all out blitz, fly by the seat of your pants approach on stage. I would probably not be here if it had not been for him.
And then there was the MASTER. My guitar guru, Richard Lieberson. Richard could play anything and he could play it all correctly. This could be made tangible by the way he could demonstrate many styles one after the other while playing one song. He could play a simple western swing tune like Take Me Back to Tulsa and as he went along he would switch for my education and amusement from." Eldon Shamblin to Hank Garland, drop by Oscar Moore’s place and swing by Tiny Moore’s place too!
He helped me put in order things I suspected but was missing pieces to. The sound and aesthetics of 1927 versus 1937 and then 1947. The evolution of harmony in American jazz and pop and the feel. Some of this is abstract but he nurtured a very strong understanding or sense of what essence made these eras and their participants stand apart from each other.
I met Elana James in New York but in a couple of years we were in California. We played for tips everyday on the street or in Balboa Park or at the Ocean Beach Farmers Market. A year of this gave us a solid repertoire and in 1997 we converged on Austin to try our hand.
Austin, Texas, welcomed us and we immediately began to play shows and soon had a booking agent and a record deal for our band, Hot Club of Cowtown. The rest as they say is history. You can go to the band's website hotclubofcowtown.com for some more background in that department.
I feel I have finally decided how I want to play! In the next few years I intend to make huge steps in my style and ability. I suffer a bit from something like ADD. I tend to think about a lot of things at once and this can inhibit my performance. On the other hand you never really know what will come out and the good days have been rewarding!
Be good to your guitar and it will be good to you!
My hobby when not playing guitar: Vintage 1960s slot cars. Everybody needs hobbies....
CHORDINATION VOLUME 2
Whit designed this DVD for intermediate to advanced players who want to increase their knowledge and improve their ability. Whit focuses on soloing and moving chord shapes for all forms of roots music and vintage jazz in this 1.5 hour DVD. There are three Western swing songs used to demonstrate moving chord voicings around, followed by several hot lick devices for soloing. $35
CHORDINATION VOLUME 1
Whit's trademark style of moving chords around over simple progressions is revealed in this hour-long lesson. Learn to play several inversions or passing chords instead of just strumming one chord. $35
Whit Smith: On the Nature of Strings
On The Nature of Strings features eight new all original instrumentals featuring Whit's personally stylized lush arrangements and swing jazz soloing. EP in length – there is not a dull moment. $12.
Download digitally from the iTunes store.
Whit Smith and Matt Munisteri: Hell Among the Hedgehogs
Hell Among the Hedgehogs is a collaboration between Whit Smith and Matt Munisteri. Limited Edition Twin Guitars EP. $10
Download digitally from the iTunes store.
If you are interested in a guitar session with Whit through Skype, fill out this contact form,
Visit Whit's YouTube Channel to see video answers to Chordination DVD lessons and watch Whit's favorite obscure music videos.
I try to find a balance of acoustic technique with a pursuit of electric potential. That boldly stated, here is where we stand, gear-wise. I play a 1946 Gibson L-5. It began life as an acoustic non-cutaway guitar. Some years back someone gave it a cutaway and a paint job. I think of it as my rescue dog. A guitar I saved from the pound. It sounds and feels great and even under severe travel circumstances, always delivers.
I have used one of three DeArmond pickups for the last 20 years. They all sound very much alike and I just switch between them for subtle reasons. One says "guitar mike.” One says "guitar mic." And one says "FHC." Your guess is as good as mine! They sound like they came from the same litter!
My live show amp is a 1961 Fender Tremoluxe Amp with 2x12" Austin Speaker Works custom speakers or 2x12" Tayden Ace 50 speakers.
Next is my 1937 Gibson amp. In the studio I use my faithful old 1937 Gibson EH-150 amp. Set the volume and go! All original and very simple. No tone knob. Plug-in, set volume and go.
WHIT's 1928 Gibson L-5
I have been playing my 1928 Gibson L-5 alot lately. I used it on all but one track of Hot Club of Cowtown's CD, "Rendezvous in Rhythm." I also used it on two songs on the new CD "Pet Names and Deep Pockets."
I have been playing my 1966 Gibson ES-335 (shown on the CD cover of "On The Nature of Strings") alot around the house. Its the perfect guitar to play late at night while everyone else is sleeping. I wrote many of the heads to the songs on "On The Nature Of Strings" on it probably at 3 AM. I hope to use it on gigs someday. I also have been trying a 1961 Fender Bassman head with the tube rectifier. The never ending pursuit of tone syndrome!
I have a wonderful Gibson J50 from about 1943. I love to play it at home. It is not quite right for Hot Club of Cowntown, but maybe someday…
I like basic bronze acoustic strings. I normally use Dean Markley or Ernie Ball 80/20, or vintage bronze. I’ll put a set of 12s on but put a 13 and 18 on the top.
If you want a great and authentic 30s/50s guitar tone but are on a budget there are many Gibson amps that can be found on Ebay for around $300 that deliver (GA-20s, etc.). If they have a 12 inch speaker and tube circuitry they should sound very good. Also, if you want to pursue an authentic vintage tone from your guitar, consider Epiphone Spartans or Gibson 125s. There are lots of great vintage guitars and amps that have not fallen into the "collectors market." Consider the basic needs for the music you want to play. Arch top guitar, single coil pickup. Low wattage tube amp, etc. Then try some of the lesser-collected models. You will most likely be happy.
Of course it still boils down to you and your fingers!
I used to have to search high and low for many of these recordings. Most have come out on CD now or can eventually be found on Ebay. There is no order to this list but I'll begin with guitar features. I'll name some original recordings and LPs and put reissue CD titles in parentheses after them if I know of one.
Here are a few things I really like on YouTube
Visit Whit's YouTube Channel to see more hand-picked favorites.
On the Nature of Strings (2014)
What Makes Bob Holler (2011)
Hell Among the Hedgehogs (2011)
|Wishful Thinking (2009)
|Best Of The Hot Club Of Cowtown (2008)
Continental Stomp (2003)
Ghost Train (2002)
Dev'lish Mary (2000)
Tall Tales (1999)
Swingin' Stampede (1998)
Hot Jazz (Available in Japan only- 2002)
Hot Western (Available in Japan only- 2002)