Paul Reed Smith Rocks for a Great Cause
Feb 02, 2017 04:00PM ● Published by Nicole Gould
Photo by Hunter Selman
Growing up, Smith not only fell in love with the guitar, but the music it created. He eventually decided to pursue his passion of building guitars and share it with the music industry, thus the beginning of PRS Guitars.
Although running a company can be very time consuming, Smith finds the time to travel the world, including Germany, China, and Italy, as the guitarist for the Paul Reed Smith Band, consisting of Michael Ault, Bill Nelson, Mia Samone, and the Grainger Brothers (Gary and Greg). With their funky rock sound, they’re bound to get you on your feet.
“I enjoyed playing for the places in China because they’d never seen what we brought there. It was brand new music to them. It was like playing in 1969 for the first time at The Fillmore. For them, it was the first time. Both places we played in Beijing and Shanghai were packed.”
– Paul Reed Smith
Join the Paul Reed Smith band Friday, February 17th, 8 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre as part of the Susan G. Komen Concert for the Cure. Tickets are $85 for the reception and show (6:30 p.m.) or $40 general admission (show only).
How did your fascination with guitars ultimately begin and when you developed PRS guitars, who was your first big customer?
I’ve always loved guitars ever since my mother brought home a Beatles record and said, “These guys are going to be huge.”
Years later, my brother took me to a music store and he said these guys are huge in England and they’re going to be huge here, you need to listen to this. It was a record that had a guy in the middle with two eyes on his shirt and an afro and two white guys next to him with afros. I didn’t see white and black, I only saw the eyes on the shirt and the big afros. I took it home and did the sacrilegious thing and opened my brother’s record without his permission and listened to the whole thing.
By the time, I got [through] Are You Experienced, which was the first Hendrix record, I was done. It was over. I loved guitar. From then on, I was always around the bands. I used to go watch all the bands in the area. I never missed anything, I just loved it. Personally, I’ve been in about 40 or 50 bands over the years.
I was making guitars during the day and I was playing at night. I loved doing it. When I opened a case at the Washington Music Center and it was a guitar I made, it drew a crowd. I had to take that feedback from the world and pay real attention to it.
My first sales were to popular local DC bands: The Nighthawks and Cherry Smash. After that I was fortunate enough to make guitars for Peter Frampton, Al Di Meola, Carlos Santana, and Howard Leese of Heart, who bought the first curly maple top guitar.
Tell me a little bit more about how the Paul Reed Smith Band began? When did the idea come about that you wanted to form a band and how did you choose who would be a part of it?
The Paul Reed Smith Band evolved from “The Band of a Thousand Names” which evolved to “The Dragons” for a long, long time. When it wasn’t The Dragons anymore, it ended up being advertised around me hence “The Paul Reed Smith Band.”. It’s a good band. Gary, Greg, and Mia are tremendous. They’re just wonderful. Gary auditioned me for a year and a half in Julia Nixon’s band, she was the women who sang “The Color Purple” on Broadway. She used to play in this place in Bethesda where I would play every Wednesday.
I’ve noticed the band has done quite a bit of traveling over the years from Germany and Italy to Japan. Out of all the places you’ve performed, which would you say has been your favorite?
I enjoyed playing for the places in China because they’d never seen what we brought there. It was brand new to them. They had never seen that kind of band in their entire lives. It was like playing in 1969 for the first time at The Fillmore. For them, it was the first time. Both places we played in Beijing and Shanghai were packed. I enjoyed that. I also enjoyed playing in Germany.
One of my favorite gigs we played, out of all weird things, was on a stage in Hans Thomann’s tent, an Internet dealer in Europe. Wow. What a show. Mia was on fire. At one point, she said something in German and the crowd went nuts. It was so much fun.
You’ll be performing at the Avalon Theatre for the Susan G. Komen Concert for the Cure. Does the band have any ties with the Susan G. Komen Foundation?
Yes, we do. One of the people in our band is the head of John Hopkins Oncology, so he can speak directly to the cause. This will be our second year playing the Concert for the Cure. It’s really nice and we hope to help inspire the fundraising efforts to raise money there. It’s all good. It’s like two worlds meeting.
We’ve performed at the Avalon Theatre three times. I like that venue a lot, it’s beautiful. It’s going to be full of people and we’re doing it for a great cause.
You recently reached 30 years of PRS (2015), which is a big milestone. How would you say the company along with the music industry (and the development of the guitar) has changed over time?
Things are changing. I was at the largest Internet dealer in America over the weekend and they couldn’t find a CD player in the whole building! They have recording studios, everything. Nobody had one. They had to find one with dust on it in the back of a backroom to play a CD. Times have changed. It’s a whole different ball game.
The guitar is going forward and backwards at the same time. There’s a peddle business right now for modifying the sound of a guitar, which is immense. Our 594 is a step backwards and forwards at the same time. We make a 509 which I think is a step forward. It’s not so simple. A violin is a violin. A violin in 20 years is still going to be a violin. Guitars are guitars, but there are some real advancements going on and there are some backwards nods to remember what was good.
We try to keep what was good and get rid of what was bad.
Out of all the artists who have had the pleasure of using one of your guitars, who has been your all-time favorite?
How can I not say the signature people that have been with us so long. Mark Tremonti, Carlos Santana, John Mayer, John McLaughlin, and others.
I’ve had a chance to play with some of them. John McLaughlin came and played at our event a couple years ago, and I got to play with him on every song, but one tune he did a Mahavishnu tune, which is a legend in our business, I left the stage because I wanted to watch as a spectator. I was screaming and yelling. It was great.
Out of all the guitars you’ve manufactured/played, what is your all-time favorite?
It would have to be the guitar we made, that started this business, for Carlos Santana because he’s the one that gave us all the initial notoriety. It started something new for us, it started showing up in magazines. It was a single knob, two switch, Santana model. That would have to be the guitar that had the most impact.
I have a guitar I play that every time I plug it in, it just sounds gorgeous and I love it.
Outside of the band and owning PRS Guitars, is there anything else you are a part of or enjoy doing? Any part about being on the Eastern Shore that you love most?
I enjoy raising money for John Hopkins immensely. I enjoy spending time with my family, a lot. I like traveling, but I don’t like being away from my family either. I adore being with my wife and my kids and I enjoy it very, very much. It does not go by blindly on me.
I like the people. I think they’re good people. I like Maryland people, always have.
This is my home.