It’s time to jazz up that blues says BIMM’s Ronan McCullagh as he takes a look at the incendiary playing of Josh Smith.
Josh Smith was just three years old when he was given his first guitar. At six he started taking lessons and quickly became obsessed with the blues, listening to Muddy Waters, BB King and T-Bone Walker every available minute of the day. Being exposed to these lush sounds alongside regular lessons shaped the young Smith, by all accounts, into an unstoppable guitar-playing force. Growing up he was always striving to play with serious and like-minded musicians, but at 12 years old this was pretty difficult, as you can imagine.
Once Josh had graduated from high school in 1997 the touring began, hitting the road with his own power trio, Josh Smith and The Frost. This is when he started to work on his vocal and band-leading prowess, gaining skills that would see him through to the highly successful career he has today.
A great moment for Josh came when he was spotted by BB King himself, who gave Josh the chance to open for him during several theatre shows in 1998. With this boast and with a few well-polished records on the shelves Josh continued to tour his own music until 2002, when he moved to LA and dived into the sideman world as he was now providing for a family. His main session gig would be with Virgin recording artist Ricky Fante, with whom Josh would remain for the next two years touring internationally.
When you hear Smith embody Stevie Ray Vaughan or Albert King it’s clear that he has checked out all the greats. Yet he never sounds like a copycat, always doing the music justice with his own superb take on things. His ability to blend traditional sounds with the jazzier styles of John Scofield, Larry Carlton, and Robben Ford is what’s really great about Josh’s playing, and is very much the focus on this month’s article.
Musical influences are vital, but it’s what you do with them next that’s important. It’s for exactly this reason why Josh is such a great player to study; he’s a fantastic example of what you can do with all this musical language. The way he links all these influences together and then stirs it up with his own creative input, leaves us with the hip and powerful player we see today.
So if you like your blues organic, but with rock attitude and jazzy sophistication thrown in, then Josh Smith is truly one to watch.
NEXT MONTH Ronan looks at another top player of modern times, the great Gary Clark Jr
I’ve spent 30 years playing the guitar , but no matter what I do , it ’ s going to be based in the bl ues Josh Smith
Josh Smith: adds chromatic jazz ideas and rock attitude to his blues solos
His Chapin T-style guitar is Josh’s main axe but you can also find him sporting a Strat, Les Paul or 335. He’s fond of overdrive, fuzz and octave pedals, and gets great Leslie sounds from his Eventide H9. Amp-wise he prefers ‘blackface’ style Fenders with a Vox alongside (or Morgan’s take on these classics). Go for a vintage valve amp sound with Tube Screamer-style overdrive and any of the wobble-type effects you may have. Don’t overdo the gain but get the power from digging in.