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Date printed: Tue 28th Jan 2020 2:32am PST

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Thread started 05/26/04 8:33pm

NUMBERTWOFANATIC

BASS PLAYER MAGAZINE STORY

Check out the full article with nice formatting at: http://www.bassplayer.com/archive/0604/0604_Features1.htm

Artistic Aristocrat
Rhonda Smith Grooves Royally With Prince
By Chris Jisi

Rhonda Smith is the consummate example of power and grace on bass. A member of Prince’s New Power Generation band since 1997, Rhonda can apply fretless finesse to a steamy ballad and, in the spin of a boot heel, dole out serious double-thumbing on a furious funk workout. With Prince, Smith’s grooves onstage and on disc are impressive—but her evocative 2000 debut solo CD, Intellipop, reveals a savvy composer, sultry vocalist, and seasoned arranger/producer who masterfully juggles overdubbed 5- and 6-string, electric upright, piccolo bass, and fretless in service of the songs.

Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and raised in Montréal, Rhonda Smith first encountered the bass clef in elementary school, where she played the tuba-like euphonium. At age 12, her older brother brought home a Sears electric bass, and soon she was playing along with rock records by Yes, Rush, and Mahogany Rush. A year later, she was exploring fusion through the bass lines and solos of Stanley Clarke’s Rocks, Pebbles and Sand [Columbia]. Recalls Rhonda, “Stanley was a huge influence because he had his own sound and was upfront in the music.” She continues, “Alain Caron and his band UZEB made fusion popular in Canada at the time, and of course, Jaco had a big impact on me.” Rhonda landed in the high school jazz band and subsequently pursued upright studies at junior college. She then enrolled as a jazz major at McGill University (where her brother currently teaches jazz composition), but quickly left to gain more playing experience in the form of an all-girl Top 40 R&B band. There, she met her good friend (and future Prince guitarist) Kat Dyson.

As word of her skills spread through Québec, Rhonda landed club gigs, recording sessions, national jingle spots, and tours with French Canadian singer/songwriters Johanne Blouin and Claude Dubois. She won a Juno Award (Canada’s Grammy) for her fretted and fretless role in drummer Jim Hillman’s fusion group the Merlin Factor. With an eye on expanding her horizons southward, Smith teamed up with Kat Dyson to perform at the 1996 NAMM show in the Godin booth. Percussionist Sheila E. happened by, liked what she heard, and informed the pair that Prince was putting together a new band and was looking for some female musicians. In April 1996 Prince summoned Rhonda to his Minneapolis Paisley Park complex to jam along with drummer Kirk Johnson. A month later she was hired and embarked on the first of numerous world tours holding down the bottom for the Purple One’s eight-piece NPG.

What are the basic requirements of the Prince gig?
First, to be solid and tight with the drummer; any gig requires that, but especially Prince’s. You need to be respectful of the music and aware of the musical surroundings—leave room for others to have their say and leave room for silence. We’re playing great songs and that’s what the fans want to hear. They know all the parts, and the sum of those parts adds up to the whole. I always appreciate it when I have a solo or little feature spot, but as someone who loves low end and the instrument’s foundation role, I have no problem holding it down while everyone else flies around me. I enjoy that.

How much freedom does Prince give you to interpret or embellish his bass lines?
Prince hears everything; if he’s dissatisfied with my part or wants it to change, he’ll let me know. But in general, he leaves it up to me, and if he doesn’t have a problem with what I’m playing he’s not going to say anything. I think he has faith in his musicians—he trusts us and our instincts. I definitely have the freedom to interpret and experiment, but it’s about respecting the parts. If you’re playing “I Wanna Be Your Lover” or “Little Red Corvette,” how much liberty should you take? How much can you overplay on “Purple Rain”? When he comes up with new arrangements of his hits, he usually has an idea for the bass line and I take it from there.

How has Prince influenced your bass playing?
I don’t think I could have had a better teacher. Canada was light on R&B and funk in the clubs and on the radio. From the outset he schooled me on a lot of music—guys like Larry Graham, James Jamerson, Willie Weeks, and Chuck Rainey. Plus, he’s a phenomenal bassist—he plays from the heart. If he wants you to reproduce a feel, he comes over and plays it for you, so you need to be able do it on the spot, which is not easy! It’s not something you can cop immediately, but by watching him over the years and being in such a funky environment, I’ve been able to assimilate some of his style. As a result, I think I play less and with more taste now, and I’m much more confident.

What about the influence of Larry Graham?
Larry is a towering innovator and an amazing person. I stand in awe of him, and at the same time he’s like my second dad. To sit with Larry and have him play “Hair” right in front of me is not only incredible, it’s very revealing. I learned that lines I thought were so complicated are much simpler in person, so I’ve been lucky to soak up some of his style. For me, Larry emerged during my second Prince tour in 1998; Graham Central Station came to an after-party in Nashville, and he and Prince hooked up. Later that tour we had both GCS and Chaka Khan opening for us. To this day Larry will come out and play, and I’ll grab my piccolo bass or play a second bass part to his.

What other bassists have caught your ear?
In addition to Stanley, Jaco, and Larry, I love Marcus Miller, whom I got to meet recently, Victor Wooten, the amazing Bill Dickens, Oteil Burbridge, and Matt Garrison; and I have to give it up for Christian McBride—he’s so gifted on upright and electric.

Prince is famous for his after-show performances. What’s different about the after-parties, and how do you deal with the physical demands of all that playing?
The after-parties are looser, more intimate club shows. Prince calls whatever he wants on the fly—including covers, like [Tower Of Power’s] “What Is Hip?”—and there’s a heavy jam vibe where we really get to know each other’s playing. Physically, the key is just to get as much sleep as you can and drink a lot of water!

Why does Prince play most of the bass on his albums?
He knows what he wants and he can play it, so why not? If it’s 3 am and he’s in the studio alone, he’s going to put down the bass track himself, even though the band is on call whenever he wants to record. Also, he has so much recorded material to choose from that a tune on a record can end up being a track he did or something I played on. He has a lot of unreleased material in the vault.

How do you come up with your parts when you record with him?
It’s always different. He’ll either show me a line or I’ll create the part—like on “Dear Mr. Man” from Musicology [see Lesson]; we just started playing. When it’s on me I have fun and let go, and he lets me know if it isn’t working.

Why did you bring a fretless the first time you jammed with Prince at Paisley Park?
I was playing a lot of fretless then, and I figured I’d let him hear a different sound from what was on his albums. He’s so open as an artist and eager to have other people’s input and expression in his music, he had me play a fretless solo on “Dreamin’ About You” from Emancipation that same day! I love the fretless—it’s much more personal and sensual than a fretted bass. Without frets there are no boundaries; it’s just your connection to the wood through your vibrato. I’ve played fretless and my Vektor electric upright on past tours, and as long as I can hear myself, I’m good. I have no fretless on this tour, although I may add one.

What material is NPG playing on the current tour?
At the moment we’re opening with “Musicology,” the title track from the new CD, and then working our way through the hits. We can’t do every one in a two-and-a-half-hour show, so we constantly rotate tunes. We rehearsed a whole list of songs before the tour and we use pre-soundcheck time to brush up or add a song. Prince will also change up on the spot and call something different, so we listen and watch him constantly; we know his body language.

What are your favorite Prince songs, bass-wise?
I love “Let’s Work” [from Controversy], a great tune and bass line; I like “The One” [from New Power Soul], which we’re not doing now; I like all of them! I have a few small solo spots; I solo in the opener and in “D.M.S.R.” [from 1999]. There are plenty of stretching moments because Prince has some great soloists in the band.

What do you do on “When Doves Cry,” which has no bass on the original recorded version?
We’re doing it on this tour; I play a kind of muted bass part Prince came up with that goes with the kick drum.

Can you run down your techniques?
For fingerstyle, I use mostly two fingers, but at times I’ll add the 3rd and 4th. My slap technique is different because I have small hands and a small thumb. I’ve always used my thumb like a pick, playing downstrokes and upstrokes, which really wears on the back of my thumbnail. Having watched Prince and Larry Graham, I use my thumb in a few different ways. I’ll do the standard thump and pop, as well as the Old School way of plucking only downstrokes with my thumb without hitting hard, like Larry does on some songs. I also like to mute the strings with my palm and pluck with my thumb or thumb and fingers. Another device I use is the flamenco slap, which I learned from a Canadian guitarist. It’s like a drum rudiment; I ball up my fist and then let my fingers go out and hit the strings, starting with the pinkie nail, the subsequent fingers, and the thumb—which is five strokes. [An example can be heard 4:03 into “Life” from Rhonda’s CD, Intellipop.] Then I’ll do it backwards, hitting the strings with my fingernails on the upstroke. I had the opportunity to sit down with Victor Wooten when he played the Montréal Jazz Festival years ago with the Flecktones, and he showed me all kinds of variations to get extra strokes.

When did you record your CD, Intellipop, and how would you describe it?
When Prince took his break in 1999, I headed to Atlanta just before moving to L.A. and recorded it with some friends down there. It’s a groove-based album with vocals, instrumentals, some smooth-jazz elements, and some harder-edged stuff. I overdubbed my Lakland piccolo basses, my fretted and fretless MTD 6-strings, and my Vektor electric upright, so there’s a lot of bass and it’s upfront in the mix. It’s for sale on Prince’s Web site and at shows.

What other projects have you done recently, and what lies ahead?
Back in L.A., I’ve had the opportunity to work with people like Sheila E., Beyoncé, Patti Austin, and in 1999 when Prince didn’t tour, I was lucky enough to get in the band for Martin Short’s talk show with Sheila E.’s brother Peter Michael Escovedo. Right now I’m about halfway through my next CD, and I’m looking forward to the rest of this Prince tour, which will run for most of the year. Prince could have chosen any bass player in the world; I just feel very blessed that he has allowed me to be a part of his music for the past seven years. I try to step up every day and give him 120 percent, and I want to maintain that in every musical situation.

All material published on bassplayer.com is copyrighted © 2003 by United Entertainment
Media, Inc. All rights reserved.
Reply #1 posted 05/26/04 8:56pm

jtgillia

Insightful article there. Thank you!
Reply #2 posted 05/26/04 11:12pm

Temptation

I already knew Rhonda was an excellent player who has improved mightily over the years. This interview also reveals her as a smart and articulate woman. Thanks for posting it.
Reply #3 posted 05/26/04 11:22pm

hjd

The tour will last most of this year. That's good to hear!
Reply #4 posted 05/27/04 7:19am

npgaddicted

I thought she was going to be on the cover with Prince. Is it out yet? And what about the props for Larry. Shows how ignorant some people are for hating on him. He is a funk icon
Reply #5 posted 05/27/04 8:21am

OdysseyMiles

Nice article. Rhonda seems very cool. cool
Reply #6 posted 05/27/04 8:25am

cloud9mission

fantastic read, I always thought she had some Victor Wooten influence in there
Reply #7 posted 05/27/04 10:22am

2freaky4church1

Larry, Larry, Larry...rolleyes
All you others say Hell Yea!! woot!
Reply #8 posted 05/27/04 10:32am

hisroyalbadnessfan8485

thanx biggrin
ignorance isnt bliss its....its......its.......a another bit word.......
Reply #9 posted 05/27/04 10:36am

MorehouseMan

Are there any nice pics of Rhonda in this mag? If so, can anyone post a few?
Reply #10 posted 05/27/04 11:44am

GustavoRibas

2freaky4church1 said:

Larry, Larry, Larry...rolleyes

- Well, like him or not, he is one of the greatest bass players of the century...
Peace
Gustavo Ribas
Reply #11 posted 05/27/04 11:47am

katt

2freaky4church1 said:

Larry, Larry, Larry...rolleyes

stickpoke
Reply #12 posted 05/27/04 2:50pm

FutureShock

GustavoRibas said:

2freaky4church1 said:

Larry, Larry, Larry...rolleyes

- Well, like him or not, he is one of the greatest bass players of the century...


I don't think I've ever heard anyone complain about Larry's bass playing. The complaints have all been centered around how he has influenced Prince's belief system. Whether such assumptions about Larry and Prince's relationship are right or wrong is another issue.
"You've got to believe in something... why not believe in me?"
Reply #13 posted 05/27/04 2:58pm

Kissmequick

Why does Prince play most of the bass on his albums?
He knows what he wants and he can play it, so why not? If it’s 3 am and he’s in the studio alone, he’s going to put down the bass track himself, even though the band is on call whenever he wants to record. Also, he has so much recorded material to choose from that a tune on a record can end up being a track he did or something I played on. He has a lot of unreleased material in the vault.



That damn vault. Someone said it earlier - just give me a shopping bag and let me in! lol
pray God bless everyone. NO exceptions. pray
Reply #14 posted 05/27/04 3:44pm

TheBluePrince

Damn! She fine! love horny
Blue music
Reply #15 posted 05/27/04 5:38pm

npgaddicted

FutureShock said:

GustavoRibas said:


- Well, like him or not, he is one of the greatest bass players of the century...


I don't think I've ever heard anyone complain about Larry's bass playing. The complaints have all been centered around how he has influenced Prince's belief system. Whether such assumptions about Larry and Prince's relationship are right or wrong is another issue.



The issue is with poeple who dislike what they feel is Larry's effect on Prince so much that they get angry when he plays bass with Prince. All that really matters for those of us who are only fans and dont know Prince personally is the music. A bass player of Larry's stature is always an asset to anyone's music. Informed music lovers know this and dont give much, if any, concern for the religious beliefs of the musician. Prince has shown that his beliefs have done nothing to degrade his music. If anything, it has helped him get even better. Musicology, NEWS, and TRC are nice documents of this expanded perspective that Prince has taken in the last 10 years or so.
Reply #16 posted 05/27/04 8:30pm

ben

Founder

moderator

Scans are in the gallery, and see http://www.prince.org/msg/7/96056
ben -- "the prince.org guy"
Reply #17 posted 05/27/04 9:03pm

PaisleyPark5083

biggrin I will be at the Staples Center friday night!!! less then 23 hours to go!!!
These are the days of wild!!
Reply #18 posted 05/28/04 3:21pm

FutureShock

Kissmequick said:

Why does Prince play most of the bass on his albums?
He knows what he wants and he can play it, so why not? If it’s 3 am and he’s in the studio alone, he’s going to put down the bass track himself, even though the band is on call whenever he wants to record. Also, he has so much recorded material to choose from that a tune on a record can end up being a track he did or something I played on. He has a lot of unreleased material in the vault.



That damn vault. Someone said it earlier - just give me a shopping bag and let me in! lol


Isn't it funny how just when some people start to have serious doubts about the vault's existence, there always seems to be a close associate or bandmate who confirms that the vault is very much a living and growing entity.

Rhonda confirmed something that I suspected all along, which is we the fans will never know for sure if or when Prince dips into the vault to re-work or simply release vault material "as is" on a current album. His music is created in such a timeless fashion that we will never know for sure. "A Million Days" could've been written last year, or it could've been written 15 years ago... and that's the beauty of his work.
[This message was edited Fri May 28 15:22:09 2004 by FutureShock]
"You've got to believe in something... why not believe in me?"
Reply #19 posted 05/28/04 5:52pm

ELBOOGY

npgaddicted said:

FutureShock said:



I don't think I've ever heard anyone complain about Larry's bass playing. The complaints have all been centered around how he has influenced Prince's belief system. Whether such assumptions about Larry and Prince's relationship are right or wrong is another issue.



The issue is with poeple who dislike what they feel is Larry's effect on Prince so much that they get angry when he plays bass with Prince. All that really matters for those of us who are only fans and dont know Prince personally is the music. A bass player of Larry's stature is always an asset to anyone's music. Informed music lovers know this and dont give much, if any, concern for the religious beliefs of the musician. Prince has shown that his beliefs have done nothing to degrade his music. If anything, it has helped him get even better. Musicology, NEWS, and TRC are nice documents of this expanded perspective that Prince has taken in the last 10 years or so.
I agree totally with u.
U,ME,WE!....2FUNKY!
Reply #20 posted 05/29/04 6:10pm

gyro34

Thanks. NUMBERTWOFANATIC for the article. I was not acquainted with Rhonda Smith's background. She's quite an accomplished artist for what I've just read.
Reply #21 posted 06/04/04 9:54am

PaisleyPark



very cool cover and article!
cool

URL: http://www2.prince.org/msg/7/95929

Date printed: Tue 28th Jan 2020 2:32am PST