INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
Current OVER THE RAINBOW/TED NUGENT bassist Greg Smith started his professional music career in the early eighties when he joined WENDY O’WILLIAMS’s band. Later on, he worked with VINNIE MOORE, ALICE COOPER, and JOE LYNN TURNER before entering the very last incarnation of Ritchie Blackmore’s RAINBOW in 1994. Greg recorded RAINBOW’s previous studio album, STRANGER IN US ALL (1995), with Ritchie, vocalist Doogie White, drummer John O’Reilly, and keyboardist Paul Morris. Later on, Greg worked with BLUE OYSTER CULT, re-joined ALICE COOPER’s band before deciding to do something different, a Broadway musical called “Movin’ Out.” Next, TED NUGENT asked Greg to join his band, and in addition to that, Greg has lately been playing shows with DOKKEN, JOE LYNN TURNER, and now with OVER THE RAINBOW. OVER THE RAINBOW is a new band formed by a group of former RAINBOW members: Joe Lynn Turner, Tony Carey, Bobby Rondinelli, Greg, and Ritchie Blackmore’s son Jurgen Blackmore on guitar. OVER THE RAINBOW was playing at Swedenrock last June, and then Greg was kind enough to give us the latest news and some other interesting stories about his past and future.
THE PAST YEARS
It’s been a while since we’ve seen you playing live here in Scandinavia. It must have been around the year 2000 when you were here with Alice Cooper?
Yeah, that was on the DRAGONTOWN tour, and it was around 2001, if I remember, right?
What have you been up to since you departed with Alice?
Since then, I have… Let’s see, in 2002; I was part of a musical with Billy Joel. In 2002 I was called by Billy Joel’s guitarist, who’s been a good friend of mine for more than twenty years. He’s my daughter’s godfather. We grew up together in Rhode Island. Billy Joel was putting together this musical called MOVIN’ OUT with a ten-piece rock band on stage, and they wanted real rock musicians there, not Broadway guys. I did that thing for three and half years on Broadway.
How many shows did you play weekly?
It was eight shows in a week, but I didn’t always do all shows. What was the great thing about it was that I had about five or six different guys, other rock musicians if there was one day I had something else to do, or there was just a nice day, and I felt I didn’t want to do a show I just gave a call for somebody and put them on you know? I was my boss there. After I finished that thing, I got a call from Ted Nugent, and I’ve been working with him since? I’ve done 2007 and 2008 –tours with him. He’s off the road this year. He’s not touring, which worked out perfectly because OVER THE RAINBOW is just getting together. That was briefly what I’ve been doing lately, “laughs.”
Why did you decide to split Alice Cooper?
I left off great with Alice, he is still one of my good friends, and I know his family very well. Calico, I watched her grow up; as a matter of fact, I have one tattoo on my left shoulder, which Calico drew for me. We are good friends. I saw Alice last year when I played with Ted Nugent at a festival in Germany. I got to see him and Calico and the whole band. I’m on excellent terms with them all.
So if Alice someday would ask you to rejoin, would you agree in any circumstances?
Never say never “laughs.”
How about Dokken? Does it seem that you and Barry Sparks are sharing the bassist duties for Don these days?
That’s right. I just played a show with Dokken last Saturday in Baltimore. I did shows with Dokken in the New York area, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia in about two months. I think I’ve done about six shows with them this year?
Playing with Dokken is not a permanent thing for you.
I think that these days Don is using a bass player depending on which side of the Mississippi river he’s playing “laughs.” You know, when he’s on West Coast, he uses Barry or Sean McNabb, and if he’s on East Side, he usually calls me. That’s how it works.
OVER THE RAINBOW
About this current OVER THE RAINBOW thing, is it true that Doogie White was originally asked to sing with this band before you got Joe there?
Well, it might have been, I think that Doogie might have been a part of what Tony Carey was trying to put together with that PURPLE RAINBOW thing, but this OVER THE RAINBOW initially was with Joe right from the beginning. I think that Joe was one of the guys who originally got an idea of putting this band together.
How did you end up being in this band?
Well, you know what, when I heard about Purple Rainbow, I didn’t know much about it. I just figured out that there were all these ex-Rainbow members getting together. Later on, I got in touch with Joe and Bobby and said, this sounds pretty cool, and I want to be part of this. That’s pretty much how it happened, “laughs.”
Did you know that Doogie is also here (Swedenrock)? He’s playing a show with TANK here.
I did not know about it, but I heard a rumor about it “laughs.” When he’s playing?
I think it was tomorrow?
Tomorrow, I wonder if he’s coming here today and perhaps to see our show. It would be great to see him.
We’ll see what happens? Tomorrow is his very first show with TANK. Did you know about that?
One funny thing is that HEAVEN AND HELL are playing on the last day of the festival, so here are three out of four Rainbow singers performing here at the same festival…
Greg, Bobby Rondinelli, Joe Lynn Turner, Jurgen Blackmore, and Paul Morris in a press conference
When you now have Paul Morris playing keyboards (he’s now replacing Tony Carey temporarily while Tony is ill), you have Doogie here, and you, so, you now have three out of five members STRANGER IN US ALL –line up in the same venue. Do you think that Joe would allow Doogie to come over on stage and do material from that album? I know that you’re doing some songs from that album in your set, too, right?
Well, I don’t know? We haven’t been in touch with him (Doogie) for a while, but who knows what might happen if he shows up on stage during the show? Joe and Doogie, they have sung together before in Spain, so, anything’s possible, you know?
The line-up of OVER THE RAINBOW is a great combination of players from different periods of Rainbow’s history, and your setlist also includes material from each period. How important it’s for you that there’s material from to STRANGER IN US ALL …
I think it’s really important to touch all the different eras of the Rainbow, which is good about the band lineup. With Tony, he got the earliest Rainbow with Ronnie. With Joe and Bobby, you got that version of Rainbow, which is quite different from early stuff, and with me in the band, you got the latest version of the band, so it’s a good combination. There’s a little bit of everything there, you know?
Speaking a little more about the line-up of STRANGER IN US ALL, some years ago, I interviewed Joe; he said that Richie actually “took” his backing band for the latest version of Rainbow. You, Paul, and John (O’Reilly) all played in Joe’s solo band before, and Richie wanted you all, except Joe, to join his band.
Well, that’s true, but there was no bad blood because of that. Richie always said good things about Joe. He always said that Joe is his favorite singer, that’s what he always told me.
You played several years in Joe’s solo band, before and after Rainbow. Are you continuing with that band as well?
Not really. I don’t think he’s now playing too often with his solo band at the moment?
Who does play in his band now?
There’s guitarist Karl Cochran, and then there is Mike Servantino, who used to play in Blackmore’s Night, and I think that Paul (Morris) is also playing there too? I was too busy to do the last few shows he was doing I was too busy to do, I was busy with Ted or with Dokken, so I wasn’t able to be a part of that anymore. But when I’m around, I will play with him. It’s always fun to play with Joe “laughs.”
THE FUTURE OF OVER THE RAINBOW?
Some rumors are telling that OVER THE RAINBOW might release some original material as well. Is there any truth behind that, and if there is, have you already written any new songs together?
Yes definitely. We all are coming up with ideas. We already have lots of ideas, and we are going to put those ideas together and go into the studio as a band. We will try all new ideas and try to do some jamming and see how it goes? That’s the plan, and there’s no doubt about it. Hopefully, we can start recording later this year, and maybe the album is coming out sometime next year?
Do you already have ideas of a possible record label for the album?
No, we don’t have any idea about that yet.
It will be interesting to hear new music from you guys because there are many talented and diverse writers in your group. You have your background with Rainbow, Alice Cooper, and Nugent; Tony has a massive solo career, Bobby has his past with Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult, among many others, while Joe doesn’t need even much introduction here. Blackmore Jr. has also released many albums on his own, some neo-classical and even metal stuff, right?
That’s true. I think that’s going to be really good stuff because before we went to Japan, we did some rehearsals, and some new ideas were coming right away, and it sounded great.
Well, our time seems to be done now. Thanks for your time, and see you in Finland oncoming fall!
For sure, thanks!
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MORE PICTURES FROM OVER THE RAINBOW SHOW IN SWEDEN ROCK 2009 !!!