Guitar Aces Bringing Skills To Cultural Center
G.E. Smith’s storied career as a guitarist has earned him a number of accomplishments worth boasting about, from an Emmy award for his work as bandleader on “Saturday Night Live” to credits on studio albums by David Bowie and Mick Jagger to touring with Bob Dylan.
For the man born George Edward Haddad, it all started in Northeast Pennsylvania, where he was born in Scranton and raised in Stroudsburg.
On Friday, Sept. 21, Smith has a homecoming of sorts with a show at Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave. “Masters of the Telecaster” also features guitarists Jim Weider and Tom Prinicipato, who each will play a set and join Smith in homage to the iconic instrument starting at 8 p.m.
During a recent phone interview from Long Island, New York, Smith recounted how his life changed when his mother bought him his first Fender guitar as an 11th birthday gift.
“We went to a store with used guitars, and there was a $100 one and a $200 one, and we got the $100 one,” he recalled. “Lucky for me, it turned out to be an old Fender Telecaster. It kind of really shaped my life. If we got a different guitar, things might not have gone the same way.
“Little things happen in our lives and change our direction, and we might not know it until years later. I’ve always played a Fender Telecaster.”
From that fateful moment, Smith devoted himself to learning the ins and outs of creating sounds with his guitar. He got his start playing bars in and around the Stroudsburg area and later at resorts such as the former Mount Airy Lodge. He played songs from numerous eras and learned showmanship from an uncle who led a band in Scranton.
Smith’s own big break came with a six-year gig backing Hall & Oates on guitar, then fronting the live band on “SNL” from 1985 to 1995. During his time with the show, he was a familiar face on-screen and even helped compose pieces such as the theme for “Wayne’s World.”
When it comes to talking about his experiences playing with big guns such as Bowie, Dylan and Jagger, Smith said it was a natural place for him to blend into once he earned the spot.
“For some reason, ever since I was a kid, what I really enjoyed the most was playing behind a good singer. I never really wanted to be the front guy,” he said. “I wanted to be a sideman, somebody who was known that you can hire me and trust me to respect the song.
“That’s what was always important to me. So playing with those people, if you learn their music, you try to analyze, of course, the notes — but then you always want to get the feeling of what does this mean to them, and how can I best support that?”
His fellow featured performer Jim Weider has shared stages with his own list of top acts. The Woodstock, New York, native has toured with Keith Richards, Dr. John, Paul Butterfield, Dylan and Hot Tuna and played with the Band.
Tom Principato, meanwhile, is a standout blues frontman in his own right who hails from Washington, D.C.
“Each one of us gets a spot and picks things we’re gonna play,” Smith explained of the Scranton concert plan. “It’s a guitar-rific show. We do bluesy, rock kind of music. Up, dancing, fun kind of music. American music. There’s a little country flavor in there.”
Drummer/vocalist Randy Ciarlante and bassist/vocalist Lincoln Schleifer will join the three guitarists, rounding out the sound and helping them in their collaborative jamming.
“I always thought of a band like a good basketball team. They don’t even really look at each other, they just throw the ball and know the other player is there. They make a pass,” Smith said. “We all know the basic outline, the road map of a song, but there’s places in there we can play off each other. That’s the most exciting part of music to me.”
Smith hopes to see some familiar hometown and distant relations in the Scranton audience as he shares his love for the Telecaster, but he expects a nice variety of musical tastes and ages in the crowd regardless.
“It’s always been important to me to always entertain people,” he said. “I like to go out there and play stuff that people can tap their feet to, that makes them think and feel good.
“A lot of other musicians aren’t the most socially adept, but you give them their instrument and they’re OK. They can communicate with that. That’s what I love about it. A lot of times people ask me, ‘Aren’t you nervous being up there in front of thousands?’ But when I put that guitar on, I’m not nervous anymore.”
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If you go
What: Masters of the Telecaster featuring G.E. Smith, Jim Weider and Tom Principato
When: Friday, Sept. 21; doors open, 7 p.m.; show, 8
Where: Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave.
Details: Tickets cost $35 in advance and $45 the day of the show. They are available at the box office, by calling 570-344-1111 and via Ticketmaster. For more information, visit sccmt.org.