The acclaimed Canadian bassist performs with Jeff Beck in Toronto on Monday
Halifax-born Rhonda Smith, who earned a reputation as one of the world’s most accomplished bass players during a 13-year association with Prince, says she began her career when her brother had uttered four words: « Don’t touch this instrument! » ”
Smith, who now backs pioneering guitarist Jeff Beck and his special guest, movie actor/guitarist Johnny Depp on a tour that stops at Meridian Hall on October 17, said it was an older brother who had inadvertently set her on a path that saw her perform with Beyoncé, Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu and many more.
“One of my brothers, who is 15 months older than me, came home one day with an electric bass and told me not to touch it,” recalls Smith, who also holds the bass chair in TV host Jimmy Kimmel’s studio band.
« That’s where it started. »
Smith, who started on bass at the age of 11, comes from a musical family – an even older brother played trombone and a sister played clarinet – but Rhonda stuck to four-strings, joining many garage bands after his parents moved the family to Montreal.
« I remember when I was in 7th grade, I asked the music teacher to let me bring my bass to class to replace the ukulele because everyone was playing ukulele, » said Smith, who lives in Los Angeles. Angeles, in a recent phone interview.
Montreal becomes the city where Smith perfects his instrument while studying at Marianopolis College.
“When you were a music student there, you studied a lot at McGill,” Smith explained. “I was always taking jazz band lessons. I was lucky enough to get third bass chair in one of their college jazz bands, read the charts with the big band, and move on.
Eventually, Smith was hired to record, perform and tour with some of the greatest artists in la belle province, such as Claude Dubois, Daniel Lavoie and Robert Charlebois.
« I got to work for the best of the best, » she said. « I was very lucky, but I also worked for it too.
In 1994 Smith won a Juno Award as a member of Jim Hillman’s The Merlin Factor for Best Contemporary Jazz Album and two years later was performing at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show with her friend Kat Dyson , from Montreal funk pop band Tchukon. , when she met Prince’s girlfriend Sheila E.
« It was my very first NAMM show with Kat for a Canadian guitar company called Godin Guitars, » Smith said. “That’s how we started meeting Sheila. We understood that she was going to start a new group for him. We gave him a tape… Months later, I just got a call from him.
When Smith joined the star, it was at a crossroads in Prince’s career. A years-long dispute with his record company over his album catalog had prompted Prince to unsuccessfully try to end the relationship by changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol.
Smith worked on his 1996 album ‘Emancipation’ – released the day Prince’s contract with Warner Brothers expired – and ended up staying for the next 13 years as a member of the New Power Generation for several albums and tours .
« When I first came with him and throughout this ’emancipation’ period, he was like, ‘Get ready, let’s go!’ We did all the late night/early morning shows at the time, including David Letterman and all the morning shows. It felt like we were going 120 miles an hour.
Smith said her time with Prince made her a better musician.
« He was a very difficult guy to work with because he knew what he liked, » Smith said. « He had such a level of execution. »
“He tended to rub off on you a bit. Guys like him and Jeff are two amazing guitar influences and some of the best in the world. They are so different, but equally talented and unique in what they do.
While Prince dictated control, Smith said Beck was a bit more relaxed with his approach.
« When I work with Jeff, he’s more apt to say musically, ‘I trust you. Bring what you bring and do what you do,' » Smith said. that you play those same three notes forever on this song’ and just lock the groove.
Over the past 22 years, Smith has also ventured into solo album territory, with projects recorded in 2000 (« Intellipop ») and 2006 (« RS2 ») during Prince’s breaks, and most recently a pop ballad titled « Won’t Come Back, » available through his website rhondasmith.com.
Although she appeared at a time when few women enjoyed great notoriety as competent bassists – Meshell Ndegeocello, Gail Ann Dorsey and Melissa Auf der Maur from Montreal are a few that come to mind. – Smith said she was encouraged by the number of young women who accepted The Instrument.
« It’s really wonderful to see so many young women and girls playing bass and knowing that they can do it and they’re allowed to do it, that they can just have fun, » Smith said. .
« That’s why I always say, ‘you love him and he’ll love you back for anything you might need.' »
Whether she plays upright acoustic bass, fretless bass, or any four-, five-, or six-string electric version of the instrument, Smith said it’s the diversity of the many opportunities available to her. which satisfies her.
“No matter what you do, variety is the spice of life. You don’t want to keep doing the same thing all the time.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION