Canadian Musician - March / April 2018 - Page 50

Born in Halifax, Rhonda Smith is widely known for her incredible bass playing with Prince and Jeff Beck. CM: Was bass your first instrument? RS: It was my first instrument, along with ukulele. In grade seven we had a little music program and they were making everyone use ukuleles. I talked my music teacher into letting me bring my bass to music class. I told her it had the same amount of strings, so what’s the difference really? And she let me bring a bass amp in, so then it was on! CM: What attracted you to bass? RS: I come from a musical family. I’m the youngest of four. I have one brother who is closest to my age. We’re about 15 months apart and I was very competitive with him. My older sister played clarinet. That wasn’t magical for me. My oldest brother played trombone. That wasn’t magical enough for me. My competitive brother at age 10 or 11 brought a bass guitar home in a case and said to me, “Don’t you touch it.” And that’s it. He’s a bass player too, still to this day. If he had brought a guitar I probably would have played guitar. CM: Who were the bass players that influenced you initially? RS: I listened to a lot of rock early on. That’s what was on the radio. I was listening to [Yes’s] Chris Squire. I was definitely listening to [Rush’s] Geddy Lee. Because I was lucky enough to grow up in Mon- treal, and there was such a jazz community there, I got into listening to a lot more fusion artists. I listened to a lot of Stanley Clarke when I was younger. A lot of people in America still don’t know who UZEB is. They look at me like I’m crazy! Alain Caron is an absolutely great bass player and from Montreal. Jaco was very popular then, too. There were a lot of fretless players. CM: You always sound amazing on fretless! RS: Thank you very much. It’s such a personal instrument. There’s no boundaries because there’s no frets. I’ve always tried to bring it in with every artist that I get a chance to work with. That really worked out for me with Prince. When I went to meet him the very 50 • C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N first time in 1996, I came from Montreal to Minneapolis and stayed for three days to play with him. In the mid-’90s, there were a lot of producers using fretless samples from keyboards and I didn’t really like the sound of them. The vibrato never really sounded real. Prince had used some of that on one of his songs, so I decided to bring a fretless with me when I went to meet him. He let me play fretless on two songs on Emancipation. When I went home after those three days I didn’t even know if I had the gig but I was in heaven. Worst- case scenario, I got to play on a Prince record. CM: I’ve always been impressed by your versatility. RS: I was just a product of my environment. Even before I started junior college I had an opportunity to play a lot of jazz. I played more jazz then than I do now. I’ve had a tendency to go more pop, funk, rock, and fusion. I missed out on the R&B, a lot of the thumping and all that until later on. CM: What have your experiences been like as a woman in the music industry? RS: Mine have been pretty good. I don’t really have a lot of horror stories. I usually work with some pretty respectful people. I think I’ve been pretty lucky, although it does happen and it’s a terrible thing. I don’t approve of it at all. You have to conduct yourself re- spectfully in order to get respect back, regardless of your gender. I like what’s happening with the movements now. I tell women to be respectful, do your job, and be proud.