I can’t imagine what it was like to step in as bass player for Willie Nelson and Family, after the passing of Bee Spears last December. Fans in the audience look at you suspiciously, then start to cry. In Phoenix last month, I got to meet Kevin, and watch him play with the band. He has played with them before, on the Willie and the Wheel projects and tour, and seeing him with WN&F; it was seamless. Especially, it was nice to see Willie and Kevin interact on stage. Kevin kindly agreed to answer some questions, to meet the new band member.
Kevin is on FaceBook. Get to know him more, follow him at Kevin’s FaceBook Page.
Linda Lee: You are from Arvada, right down the road from me. How did a nice Colorado boy end up in Texas?
Kevin Smith: After I got out of High School I didn’t have any real plans, and I joined a band with some friends, we made one trip to play in Austin and moved to Texas about 2 weeks later!
LL: Was guitar your first instrument?
KS: Yup, My Dad had an old Airline acoustic guitar that I picked up. I Tried playing upright bass in 6th grade, carried it home one time and quit immediately.
LL: Dallas Wayne has such nice things to say about you. How long did you play with Heybale!?
KS: Heybale! has been together for about 12 years now! All the other guys in the band were living in Nashville, and our drummer Tom Lewis put the band together with Gary Claxton who sang and wrote songs, Redd Volkaert who was playing guitar with Merle Haggard, Earl Poole Ball had played piano Johnny Cash and too many others to mention, and Dave Roe who played bass with Johnny Cash and Dwight Yoakam.
Eventually all of them but Dave moved to Austin and they restarted the band, so they called me! We play every Sunday night at the Continental club, and everyone has other projects, but we all make it every Sunday we can! Dallas has been with us since our singer passed away a little over a year ago, and we love having him around! We’ve made a couple of great records that you can get at www.Heybale.com.
LL: You toured with Dwight Yoakam, is it hard to step in and do a tour with a band like that?
KS: I had plenty of notice on the Dwight gig, so I had plenty of time to learn the material. In 2006 we did 161 shows, Jay Leno 3 times,Jimmy Kimmel, Don Imus, and played in Europe, Australia,Hawaii. It was a great year!
LL: I read that you toured with Ronnie Dawson, and also High Noon. When did you start playing Rockabilly music? What attracted you to play that music?
KS: Rockabilly was the first music I learned to play. I loved the energy of that kind of music, and especially the sound of the upright bass.The band I moved to Austin with was a rockabilly band, and the next band I was in was High Noon, which was a traditional, drummer-less Rockabilly band.High Noon has played 14 countries, and even the Canary Islands! We eventually met Ronnie Dawson and started backing him on his shows and tours. High Noon would open the show, then Ronnie and our great friend and drummer Lisa Pankratz(she is currently working with Dave Alvin) would come and we’d play his show! We did Conan Obrian and Carnegie Hall with Ronnie. Bear Family records is currently releasing some recordings of us and Ronnie.He’s one of our all time heroes, and we were all fortunate to get to work with him.
LL: How did you hear about the offer to play with Willie Nelson & Family? Who called you?
KS: I got a text from Mickey asking if I wanted to come out and play with them in Winnie, Texas that night! I had played upright bass on the Willie and the Wheel record, and done the subsequent tour and Austin City Limits show, so I got to meet Willie and Micky and swap numbers. Ray Benson put in a good word for me as well! Thanks Ray!
LL: What was your first thought when you got the call?
KS: I’ll be right there!!!
LL: Did you say you had to think about it, talk to your family?
KS: I definitely talked it over with the family, and I’m fortunate to have an extremely supportive wife, but we all thought it sounded like a good idea.
LL: Did you rehearse with the band before the Winnie show?
KS: We didn’t have a chance! I called Micky about 8 a.m., and said I’d be there. They emailed me a recording of a show from a few weeks before, and I listened to that on the drive out to Winnie. I did the show that night, and I got on the bus and finished the run!
LL: How has reaction of fans been? Have you heard a lot of Bee stories?
KS: The fans have been great! I’ve heard a lot of great stories about Bee and seen more than a few tears. Everyone really loved Bee. I never got to meet him, but I wish I’d had the chance. I’m grateful for the chance to stand where he stood.
LL: What’s the best part about playing with the band?
KS: Everyone has been so nice and welcoming, just traveling with these folks is fun and rewarding. The great music and great shows are the icing on the cake.
LL: Is it challenging playing with the band, with no set lists?
KS: I like it! it’s easier to fit the set to the audience than the other way around, and Willie knows what he’s doing! Jump in and and hang on!
LL: Are you having fun?
LL: Thanks again, Kevin.