Ted Nugent Band's Greg Smith
By Jay Oakley
So, you have some time off now after your tour with Ted Nugent. How did the tour go?
It went great , man. It was a lot of gigs. It was something like fifty-four dates in sixty-three days, something like that, it was something crazy. The home stretch was eighteen gigs in nineteen days. By the time I got home, I woke up the next morning going, "What the hell just happened?"
What do you have planned for the rest of the year, if there's anything that you're allowed to talk about?
Sure, man! Obviously, besides Ted, there's a lot of band's that I play with and have played with. Actually, tomorrow night in New Jersey I'm playing with Tommy James And The Shondells, ya know "Mony Mony," "Crimson And Clover" and all that. I've been with him for fifteen years now. He doesn't work that much. He does maybe about fifteen, twenty gigs a year. When I'm out with Ted we have a guy that covers me and I jump back into it when I'm at home. Other then that, I'm playing with a band called Wizards Of Winter and what it is, is basically a couple of guys that used to be in Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I don't know whether they got let go or they quit or whatever but they're involved in this. It's in the same vein, sort of a progressive Christmas kind of a thing.
That's awesome and one of the last times I saw you, you did a little bit of work with Ann Boleyn and Simon Wright (Hellion.)
That's right. I did that, I think, two years ago now I think it was.
I've got to ask. It's been a long time now but how is it working with somebody like Ted Nugent? Everybody know him as a really big personality but you've been with him for so long now so, how is it playing with him?
It's great. Ted is passionate about everything he believes in. Those people who haven't seen him live they see him on television whether it's talking about politics or on one of his hunting shows and you see how passionate he is about that and he is equally, if not more, passionate about his music. I'm standing right next to him as he's starting the intro to "Stranglehold" and I'm looking at his arms and he's got chills going up and down his arms, forty plus years after he wrote that song. So, he's got an intense passion for it. He plays, I think, better then he did in the 70s and on a personal level he's a great guy to be around, a great guy to hang out with. A true family man, he treats my daughter and my family like his own and he's just a pleasure to be around.
One of the things I noticed when you guys played Baltimore and just out of my own curiosity was you didn't have Derek (St. Holmes) with you for that show.
Yeah, Derek was busy doing his thing with Brad Whitford, the Whitford/St. Holmes thing. He and Ted are on great terms, of course and who knows what will happen in the future. Obviously, I"m sure that door is always open.
One of the things I wanted to ask you about from your earlier career was your work with Alice Cooper on a few albums. I've got to ask you, what was it like being a part of that show?
Of course, Alice is another legend and it was a pleasure playing that material and being a part of some of the newer material on a couple of albums that I did. He's also a great guy, Alice is very much like the guy you see when he does interviews. He's very intelligent, very smart, quick-witted. We had a blast on the bus, we used to play poker on the bus all the time. I recently saw him when he came to my neck of the woods. I was off and I took my daughter to see him and she just loved it. She's seen all the old videos of me with him and stuff like that but to see it up close and personal and, of course, he's bringing out all the stops, all the theatrics and everything like that. She got a big kick out of meeting him and that he knew her name and everything and we really had a great time.
As a matter of fact, I'm sitting here looking and talking about those poker games, I'm sitting here looking at a trophy that Alice gave me. We used to play poker in the back of the bus nearly every day. Alice does really, really well and I used to, kind of, flow between fifty dollars above and fifty dollars below and we're talking about a whole tour so several months. We would put everything in a ledger and no money would change hands until the end of the tour so we mainly played for quarters but at the end of the tour that adds up to being a few hundred dollars. This one year, all the cards were coming my way like the last week and it was really at his expense so [Laughs] I ended up, I think, taking him for about four hundred bucks and the last show of the tour he gives me this trophy that he found in some pawn shop, he goes to pawn shops to look for old watches, ya know. It's a marble base, it's got a Miller can and then a hand with a full house on top of it. So, I'm sitting here looking at it in my studio right now. So, that's my little souvenir of playing cars with Alice on the bus.
So, when I got to talk to you outside the venue in Baltimore and we casually got the ball rolling for this, I asked you if you'd be willing to talk about Wendy O. Williams from your time back in the 80s with her. How did that come about, working with Wendy? How did that start?
I grew up in New York and I played in a lot of the clubs there with a lot of various, different bands growing up. I was playing in a certain band called Squadron and we were playing at a place called My Father's Place in Roslyn. It's an old club and they had nationals and stuff, I think we were opening up for the Joe Perry Project, if I'm not mistaken and Eric Carr (KISS) used to come see us. Our guitar player was from a neighborhood in Queens, where he was from and they, kind of, knew each other. At some point in time, I guess they were having problems, they were doing the Creatures Of The Night album and whatever problems they were having with Ace (Frehley) started surfacing and they were looking for somebody to play on the album and I guess Eric had recommended our guitarist Mike (Ray) and Gene (Simmons) came down to see him. To make a long story short, they liked him and brought him in to do some tracks. He played on some tracks, uncredited of course, that's the way KISS does things [Laughs] and what happened was they didn't take him because he was to short. [Laughs] But what happened was, when Gene was producing Wendy's first solo effort (WOW,) after the Plasmatics, he put Mike in the band and Mike recorded the album, he played bass on it himself but when the touring band came about Gene remembered me and put me in the band and long with Mike and that's how I got involved with Wendy.
What was it like around that time? Wendy was always known for these big theatrical stage shows, blowing up cars and cutting things up, so how was it like being a part of that show? Were there ever any problems or did you ever have any issues with people because even at that time some of those stage antics might not have been like by people who didn't really "get it."
Well, I think the people that came to see Wendy were affecting that kind of stuff. We weren't blowing up cars but we blew up a television set and chainsawed a guitar and that kind of thing. We had these big flash pods which, I'm sure, are completely illegal now and they were these big metal tubes filled with some kind of explosive that would shoot a flame twenty feet in the air and I think we did catch a ceiling on fire some place in Texas. [Laughs] I nearly got burnt badly by one of those. You had to know where they were and know when they were going off otherwise you could lose all your hair. [Laughs]
I remember one time, in particular, we were playing at a place called Club Manhattan and I think that was Nanuet, New York or somewhere up that way, I doubt if it's there anymore, but we were doing a matinee show and it was an odd thing because we've never done it before, we were doing two shows in a day. The first show was for underage people, obviously, and Wendy was really going for it. She was running around and jumping up. She always did that but she was really, really like on twelve instead of ten like she usually is and she fell and hit her head. I remember me and the guitar player Mike were just looking at each other going, "What the hell is going on here?" because she's on the floor writhing and you could tell she's passed out and we didn't know what the hell to do. So, the crew come and pick her up and carry her offstage and now we're just on there playing instrumentally. So, we just did some soloing and had a little fun and then finished the song and got offstage. But, she ended up getting a concussion and we had to cancel the second show.
How was she on a personal level? Unfortunately, with Wendy not being with us anymore and a lot of people don't know about her offstage. How was it getting to spend time with her?
On a personal level, Wendy was completely different from her stage persona. Really sweet, really kind, always positive and smiling. I remember when we found out we were going to England to film a live full-length video, she came into the studio where we were rehearsing, they had a loft in lower Manhattan in Tribeca and they built a room that we rehearsed in and Wendy came into that room and she goes, "Don't tell Rod." Rod (Swenson) was our manager and her boyfriend and she says, "Don't tell Rod I told you but we're going to England to do a video!" and she's jumping up and down like a little eight year old girl, so happy. Another time, I remember, we played at CBGB and I, somehow, someway, I still can't figure out how I did it, I was holding my bass up and then I kicked my leg and kicked my bass and just launched it into my head and busted my head wide open and I was bleeding everywhere and the crowd at CBGB was like, "YEAH!" They thought it was awesome. But Wendy, I had a bunch of friends with me that night and we were going out afterwards in the village and she refused to let me go anywhere until I followed her back to her loft and she cleaned my cut out with peroxide and put a band-aid on it. That's the real Wendy, on a personal level, that's who she was.
If you don't mind me asking. Do you remember where you were when you found out about her passing?
Yeah, I think I was playing on Broadway at that time, doing the Billy Joel musical, Movin' Out. I remember, we did the memorial for her at CBGB not to much long afterwards, so I think I would have been doing that at that time. It was such a shame because I loved Wendy, she was such a sweet person and It's one of those things where I cared about her and I just wish I kept in better touch with her, ya know. When she would play, I would go see her but I didn't really talk to her much after that time. Wes Beech, who was our guitarist, he always stayed in really close contact with Wendy and I would stay in close contact with Wes. So, every time I'd see Wes I'd go, "Hey! How's Wendy doing?" and he'd say, "Oh, she's doing great. She said to say hello." and I said to tell her I'm thinking about her and we gotta hook up at some point. And, of course, we never did, unfortunately. It's just one of those things that reminds you to really keep in touch with people you care about because you never know what's going to happen. It was a complete shock to me that she was depressed and took her own life. I had no idea.
I really appreciate that, Greg. Not a lot of people really know about the true Wendy and I appreciate you taking the time to tell people who she was and about the great person that she is. Even without her, it's about the person that she is.
Yeah, she was a real sweetheart. She was a vegetarian and she used to grow most of her own food. In her loft, there was like trees of wheat grass growing everywhere and we used to kid around, the guys in the band, we'd be on the road and we'd be like, "OK! Today's the day we're going to sit on Wendy's chest and push a Big Mac down her throat." [Laughs]
I can understand that because she always had a waist of like a negative three.
Oh Yeah, yeah. She was in incredible, incredible shape. Always, not an ounce of body fat on her.
What led to your departure from the Plasmatics? Was it just your time? Did something else catch your attention?
Yeah, something else kind of came about. It was a band that I'd done some recording with at the time, it was the mid-80s and it was a band that was doing the melodic, hard rock music that was really popular at the time and the music was really, really good in that genre and we had a bunch of interest from a lot of labels. Actually, the guitar player in that band is now the guitar player in Dokken, Jon Levin. It was a band called Devious. We did really well, we did really well in New York and the Tri-State area and it was one of those things where we were almost there, had all the labels interested and then what happened was Jon left to go join Warlock with Doro Pesch. Then, I started playing with Vinnie Moore and then I got into Alice Cooper's band.
And, to wrap this up. What has music given to you? Obviously, you've got this big discography with all these great albums, with all these great people but what is it about music for you?
Well, aside from a means to pay my bills [Laughs] and keep a roof over my head. I love it just as much as I did when I was a kid getting into it. When I'm not on the road, I have a band I put together with some local musicians where I live and every now and again a couple of the guys from Billy Joel's band come and play with us as well. We call it, Off The Road and basically we play old music, old, fun material. 60s and 70s rock and roll and basically doing it for fun and playing in these little clubs in Pennsylvania, certainly not for money. But like I said, I love it just as much as when I was a kid and what I say when I'm on the road is, "The playing's free. I get paid for being away from my family."
Greg, thank you. I'm super stoked that I was able to set this up with you, it was an honor. I appreciate you letting me dial you up and sit down with you for a little while.
No problem, man. I appreciate it.