GE Smith Jumps into the Jam-Band Scene with Moonalice

YOU PROBABLY KNOW GE SMITH AS THE grinning and eminently tasteful guitarist who fronted the Saturday Night Live band for ten years. You’ve certainly heard him on albums by Hall & Oates, (he played with the white soul duo for six years), and you may have seen him in concert backing Bob Dylan. Now Mr. Smith has gone to the psychedelic side with Moonalice—a ’60s-oriented group that’s the vision of venture capitalist/Flying Other Brothers guitarist Roger McNamee. Smith kindly took time out of his busy schedule—which currently involves gigging alongside Jack Casady on bass, Pete Sears on keys, and Barry Sless on guitar and pedal steel— to give us his perspective from the inner sanctum of Moonalice. —Art Thompson
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Is it fair to assume that you have more to do with Moonalice’s sound than, say, the band’s fictional history?

Right. The mythological part of Moonalice is mostly Roger McNamee’s deal. I always say he’s the heart of the band, not the muscle. My thing is to back him up and make sure the arrangements are tight. I put my influence on Moonalice’s loose, San Francisco thing, and, in turn, they influence me to try new things. The fun part with this band is that it’s notthe music I come from. I bring my New York rock and blues thing, where I’m used to soloing over 16 or 32 bars, and Barry Sless does a more extended Jerry Garcia kind of thing. So on the nights when it works, it’s a really cool experience. With this kind of music, you can play as much as you want—there’s always room for it.

Having Jack Casady in the band certainly must be an asset in getting to the core of what Moonalice is all about.

Oh yeah. When Jack isn’t out with Jorma Kaukonen, he plays with us, and it’s amazing to have such a great bass player who comes from that world. Jack and I have a ball onstage. He came out of the R&B thing growing up in Washington D.C., and I always hear that in his playing. I grew up with blues and R&B and was a folkie too, so we have a lot in common.

On this album you do a Steve Earle tune, as well as an Irish tune that Bob Dylan has performed. How did those songs come about?

One of the things I learned from playing with Bob Dylan was about taking old songs and putting your own arrangements on them, so that’s what I did with the Irish tune “Eileen Aroon” and Steve Earle’s “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied.” Steve and his band were the opening act on one of the tours I did with Dylan, and I went from hearing him play that song every night to going to side of the stage to watch him play it to jumping on stage one night to play it with them. I’ve always thought that the more songs you know, the better off you are. No matter who I was playing with, it always helped if I knew their stuff as well as a couple of thousand other things.