Stuart Smith

Guitarist Stuart Smith has returned with a new Heaven and Earth lineup and album and is set to tour the UK for the first time in years. He spoke with Mick Burgess about the album, tour, working with Sweet and receiving advice from Ritchie Blackmore.

Your latest album Dig, which came out last year, has been getting some great reviews. Does that make all the hard work making a record feel worthwhile?

Every single review has said it’s my best record yet or it’s album of the year. I was very surprised even though I thought it was a good album when we were doing it. I just wish it translated into sales. So much money was put into it by the record company; it would have been nice to have had more sales. I know Sebastian Bach was saying recently that he had 80,000 followers on Facebook only half a percent bought the album. It’s sad but the music is so easy to get for nothing these days which is a shame as I’m sure most people wouldn’t appreciate it if they worked hard at work and didn’t get paid for it. Having said that the great reviews and reaction have given us a launching pad to get out on tour and it gives us a big bar to come up to when on tour and we’re up for the challenge.

On your first record, released 10 years ago you used a few different singers from Glenn Hughes, Joe Lyn Turner, Bobby Kimball and Kelly Hansen. This time you have Joe Retta. Were you looking to make a more focused band type of album rather than an album with multiple guests?

I’ve always preferred a band situation all of my life. When I was offered the deal for the first album I was in a band with Keith Emerson called Aliens of Extraordinary Ability and at that time Steve Priest wanted to get Sweet back together with Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker and Keith was reforming ELP back around 1995 or something like that. Unfortunately Brian Connolly died and the Sweet thing never happened and Keith went off on tour. Some guys from Samsung heard me jamming with some friends and came back to my house and listened to some stuff and they offered me a deal. I didn’t have a band at that time so I called everyone I knew and Richie Sambora was the first, he was my brother-in-law at the time as I was married to Heather Locklear’s sister at the time. Richie was really pleased as no one asked him to sing before and he has an incredible voice as well as being a great guitarist. He does a fantastic version of “When A Blind Man Cries” on my album. The second was Joe Lyn Turner and with Richie and Joe on board everyone else wanted to be part of it. It wasn’t planned like that, it’s just because I didn’t have a band and I had a record deal but I do prefer being in a band. For my second album Windows To the World I had Kelly Keeling singing on it but this time I wanted a band situation where we were all involved in the writing.

You and Joe worked together in Sweet. Is this when you first met?

We were actually touring with the second Heaven and Earth album with Kelly Hansen as lead singer and he was doing a great job. We were just starting to get noticed in The States when he got the offer from Foreigner and he just had to take it as it was every singer’s dream gig. I couldn’t find anybody to replace Kelly and around that time Steve Priest called me and asked if I wanted to join Sweet and Joe was involved in that. It worked at that time as a lot of ’70’s and 80’s bands were coming back. We were headlining festivals in front of 10,000-15,000 people and we toured South America with Journey. It was fun but Steve Priest didn’t want to move forward with new music and the rest of us did and we were offered a deal for Heaven and Earth and here we are. I’d known Joe a couple of years before but Sweet was the first time we’d worked together on a deeper level but we’d done jam sessions around L.A and thought he was fantastic. When Steve Priest wanted to put Sweet back together Joe was the first person I took Steve to listen to.

He has the power of Dio and the Bluesy passion of Paul Rodgers. That’s quite a combination?

I totally agree with you. I think Joe is the best singer in Rock today. When he was starting out he had two young daughters and his wife died so he quit the business to raise his daughters. He gave up the chance of fame for his family but now they are older this is his chance to make his mark in the music business.

You still found some space however for a guest or two. Howard Leese from Heart and Richie Sambora formerly of Bon Jovi both make return appearances for you. What did they bring to album?

Howard is an old friend of mine and worked with me on the first Heaven and Earth album. The producer, Pat Regan, was so busy with other projects that Howard came in to finish the production. It was something of a tradition that when I was doing acoustic guitars I’d always bring Howard in and I’d give him the 12 string to play as that hurts. When we were doing the track “I Don’t Know What Love Is” we needed something special so he put the 12 string guitar on that. The thing is once Howard comes in you can’t get rid of him and he ended up putting the string section on “Love Is One” which I think really finished the song off perfectly.

Richie is now synonymous with the talk box. Did you ask him to do that on “Man and Machine”?

I needed a Gibson SG which I don’t have so I called Richie who was in the studio recording his solo album and asked if he’d lend me his. He said he’d bring it down to the studio I was working in. He came down and there was a guitar there that someone wanted signing for charity so we both signed it and had our picture taken. That got onto the internet and then all these fans were writing to me and to Richie asking if we were working together. We were doing “Man and Machine” and I know Richie plays a really good slide and I asked if he’d come down and put some slide on it. On his first day off in three months he came into the studio and did this for me. He did the slide then he said some talk box would be good too so he did that and it all ended up sounding fantastic.

“Man and Machine” is such a great foot to the floor Rocker and a great driving song.

I’ve actually had a lot of people email me and say that they got a speeding ticket listening to that song!!

David Paich from Toto also makes an appearance too. How did that come about?

We weren’t going to have guests on this album other than Howard as it’s a tradition with Howard but we went to David Paich from Toto’s Christmas party and at the end of it went into his studio and we played him “I Don’t Know What Love Is” and he loved it and he said that I had to let him play on it and David did his magic on it and added some great string parts.

When did you start work on the album?

It was released on April 23rd last year and it took us 14 months and a lot of that was the writing side of it. We spent a lot of time crafting the songs and wouldn’t record anything until we really felt it was ready to be recorded. I generally start with a title and a riff and then everyone joins in and someone will take it somewhere else. Joe would record everything on a little four track he had and he’d make MP3’s and send them to everyone. We’d listen to these and come back and build on the ideas and keep doing this until we really felt it was ready. That happened until half way through the album until everyone got busy with the touring season so Joe and I sat down and wrote together and came up with “House of Blues”, “I Don’t Know What Love Is” and “Man and Machine” on our own. “House of Blues” is my favorite song on the album and Joe does the performance of his life on that. It’s a great song to do live too and has such a good feel to it.

The album flows so well from the epic opener “Victorious” to the fast Rockers (”Man and Machine”), the ballads (“I Don’t Know What Love Is”) and more mid tempo shouldering Blues tracks like” House of Blues”. When you had finished writing and recording did you have a good idea of where the songs will fit on the album?

Record companies used to hire Howard Leese to sequence albums and I asked him what the running order should be and he said it should be just the order that I wrote them. If you play it, it starts off very dark and powerful and it ends up very elating with a big choir on “Love As One”. We took his advice so the sequencing was just in the order it was written. I think it’s a pretty eclectic mix of Blues, Rock, Pop and even a bit of Classical and Gospel with “Live As One “and I think it all works very well together.

Next month you’ll be coming over to the UK for a series of 5 shows. It must be quite a while since you last played here?

It is and we’re really excited. I can’t wait to bring my new band over to play. The last time I played in the UK was back in the early 2000’s with Kelly Hansen. It’s my home, my birthplace so it’ll be great to be back. I’m glad we’re going up North but it’s a shame we won’t be playing in York, which is where I’m from originally. My only problem is that we don’t have a big name in the band from the ’80’s or 90’s so we need to tour and establish a name for ourselves.

What have you got planned for the tour?

The show is great so hopefully people will come out and see us and we can build it by word of mouth. We can play the whole album and will also do some songs from the earlier albums. I have a lot of friends in the UK so we might have some guests come along and sit in.

Why did it take you so long to tour after the album was released?

We wanted to tour straight after the album was released last April but when it came out the summer tours were already booked and we couldn’t find anyone to pick us up and take us out on the road. It’s not like the old days where an agent would hear a band and like them and see the potential and build them up. Now an agent won’t touch you unless you can fill 1200 seaters but I’m pleased to finally get the backing to tour over in the UK. We’re working our hearts out to put on the best show that we can.

Your touring line up has changed from the one that recorded the album. What has happened there?

Obviously Chuck’s main gig is Quiet Riot so we had to part ways and we also had Tony Franklin but his main gig is with Kenny Wayne Shepherd. It’s hard for a band that unless you’re constantly working and making money, it’s hard for professional people to commit to it. We got Lyn Sorensen from Bad Company in and he’s a super nice guy, great bass player and an amazing singer too. Richie Onoria is an old friend of mine and has spent a long time in the band but he’s got so much going on with his own music business company dealing with amplifiers and guitar straps and he has a solo career so it’s hard for people to commit to Heaven and Earth so we got Jackie Barnes in, he’s Jimmy Barnes’s son. He’s amazing, he’s a young 28 year old powerhouse and he can sing too so I think we have a pretty good band together for the live shows.

You are originally from York. Will you be visiting family and friends while you’re over here?

I have family who live down south. After the UK tour we’ll be playing at the Montreux Jazz Festival which is a real honour. So many of my friends have played there and I can’t wait to follow them. After that show I’ll be back in the UK to see my parents and family and I’m really looking forward to that too.

You now live in America. When did you move over there?

I moved to America in 1983 as the music scene in England was more dance orientated with Duran Duran and the like. England is so small that if you don’t play the type of music that’s in you starve. Ritchie Blackmore told me that I should move to America as even if your music is not in fashion, which Rock music was at that time, there is still a big enough audience to make a living from. I packed my bags and moved to Long Island and got a band together there. Ritchie was great and would come and play with us. We’d play 1500 seaters without being known as people knew Ritchie would come out and play with us from time to time.

You have stayed in touch ever since. Do you hope to write and record together someday?

I’d love to produce a Rock album for Ritchie along the lines of the Muddy Waters Tribute album that Paul Rodgers did. I’d love to see Ritchie working with different singers like Paul Rodgers and Joe Retta and maybe have Eric Clapton and Ritchie working together too. I’d love to do something like that but right now my main priority is writing and touring with Heaven and Earth.

Heaven and Earth’s Latest album Dig is out now.

Heaven and Earth tour the UK in June starting on 26th June at O2 Academy in Birmingham and ending on 2nd July at O2 Academy Islington, London.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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