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Smitty West: Press

Archived Interviews

Smitty was recently interviewed by noted music journalist Ava Smith. They discussed his newly completed recording of his first commercial blues composition, “Persistent Vegetative State Blues.” Here are excerpts from the interview:

Ava Smith: Persistent Vegetative State Blues…That’s a pretty dark title, Smitty. What’s the back-story here?

Smitty West: On the night I won the MAVRIC Song Of The Year comedy award for Lady of the Aisle, a guy came up to me at the after-party and said, “So you’re a comedic songwriter, huh? I’m a video/film producer and am always looking for good, original humor songs.”

So at home that that night I looked at my latest recordings, and outside of Lady, it wasn’t a very funny list. Dead trees, lost love, hatred, landmines, pollution…..

AS: Yes, many artists get labeled by their first commercial success, even if the genre of the body of their work doesn’t necessarily emulate the recognized one.

Smitty: Come again?

AS: You needed another comedy song.

Smitty: Right.

So I turned to my journal.

I have a notebook where I try to keep some of my creative energy organized. I jot down my ideas. Tunes that pop into my head in bed, in the shower…. snippets of cool or stupid things I hear throughout the day.

Some scribbles jumped out at me right away:

“Persistent Vegetative State”
“The patient’s brain was profoundly atrophied”
“Massive neuronal loss”

AS: Not exactly comedic concepts there…

Smitty: Yeah, I know.

Remember the Terry Schiavo news story from a few years back? The poor lady in Florida who was in a coma for how many years? The case of deciding her fate became a feeding frenzy for the media and a political tug of war. It was so sad.

AS: I think it went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Smitty: Uh-huh. When the umpteenth medical examination results came down on TV, the nation was hanging on the words of this nerdy medical examiner…and I jotted down what he said. It seemed so surreal and exploitive that politicians were hanging their careers on these cold, clinical words that would determine the course of this poor lady’s life or death.

AS: So, writing a comedy song about it didn’t seem surreal and exploitive to you?

Smitty: This interview is over.

AS: Let me rephrase that question: So, the sad irony of this news event sparked in you a creative flame, which was fed by your blues heritage stemming from your years in the Deep South, and with a satirical twist, you were able to convert tragedy to comedy?

Smitty: Uh….Yeah. That’s it. Exactly. (pointing at the interviewer) What she said.

AS: Looking over the lyrics, I see that you have an interesting rhyme scheme in the second verse.

Smitty: Oh yeah, you mean:
(singing)
I’m vegetative.
Potatoed, tomated.
I’m a carrot, zucchini,
a spinach linguini.
I feel like a food.”

..I guess vegetative and tomated aren’t exact rhymes. Actually I’m not even sure tomato is a verb, let alone that it has a past-tense. Maybe I borrowed that line from Milton or Shakespeare…Yeah, You see…I think it rhymes better in The Old English.

Zucchini and linguini are perfect rhymes…are they not?

AS: Yes, but…

Smitty: I rest my case.

AS: Yes. I see…I think.
Tell me about the recording. There’s some great blues guitar licks in this song.

Smitty: I’ve wanted to have Ojai’s legendary Don Cardinali play on one of my songs; he did both the rhythm guitar and harmonica.

He showed up for the recording gig with this 50s era amp that looked more legendary than him. Even the TUBES had tubes on that old beat up brown thing. And the volume knob went to twelve. Twelve! That’s why I scream “put it on twelve” in the middle of the song. That Brit in “Spinal Tap” only had eleven, and that was the 80s.

Don’s harmonica mic looked like a something you’d shave your underarms with. It was silverish gray and organic-looking. He really can play that Norelco-looking thing. He captured that old obnoxious, interrupty harp sound that’s somewhere between St. Louis and New Orleans. Like Monroe or Vicksburg, I’d say.

Scott Luedke, my producer/engineer and a great Ventura County guitar player, played the guitar lead in the instrumental bridge. Man, that guy rips. He also played drums and bass. Before I went out to hire a drummer, he told me: “I can play drums good enough for this song. Not hiring a drummer will save you a few bucks. I’ll split it with you!” I think that poor-boy attitude comes across in the mix…that Southern, down-and-out feel that can really inspire a good blues song.

I played an old-timey piano, and sang, cried, moaned, and ad-libbed a bit.

AS: Yes…in fact I heard you screaming for the nurse at the end of the song.

Smitty: They were going to pull the plug on me. I may have massive neuronal loss, but I still have my dignity.

You can hear Persistent Vegetative Blues FOR FREE at Smitty’s website www.smittywest.com
Ava Smith - Ava Smith Music Reviews (Jun 12, 2009)
Coyote Night
by
Zoe Murdock


It was late when Scott awoke to the sound of coyotes yipping. They were usually in the river basin behind the house, but tonight they sounded closer, and there were more of them, making a real raucous about something. He decided he’d better check it out.

He pulled on his pants, grabbed his sandals, and slipped quietly out of the bedroom trying not to wake Betsy. When he got downstairs, the coyotes were so loud he wondered if they were out by the coop where he kept his prize chickens. “Oh, man. How did they get in there?”

He hurried outside, but when he closed the door, the coyotes must have heard him because they stopped yipping. He wasn’t sure where they were. He stood perfectly still, listening, but the night was suddenly silent.

A full moon, high above the twirling windmill, spilled blue-white light across the yard, casting eerie shadows beneath the oak trees. He thought he saw something move through the orchard, but it might have just been the wind, which had cooled and freshened since the afternoon. Although it wasn’t all that cold, he felt a sudden chill.

He moved quietly toward the chicken coup, wondering if it was a smart idea to confront a pack of coyotes with their kill. One coyote was no problem, and he could probably handle two or three, but a whole pack might be trouble. He stooped and picked up a thick stick and held it out before him as he went slowly down the path. The coyotes were still keeping their silence. He couldn’t see them, but maybe they were on the far side of the coup. Or maybe they had somehow gotten inside.

He hurried his pace until he got to the chicken coop. He looked through the wire that covered the windows. The chickens clucked softly, and shifted on their perch, but everything seemed fine. So where were the coyotes and what had they been so excited about?

He braced himself against the chicken coop, barely breathing. If he didn’t make a sound, maybe the coyotes would reveal themselves. He stayed like that for quite some time, becoming more sensitive to the sounds of the night: the whirling chatter of the windmill, the rustling of leaves in the trees, a few sleepless crickets keeping track of the temperature. There was a smell of crushed sage and lilac. Then he heard it; one little yip, and then another. Soon the whole pack was going again. They were close, out by the pool.

He took off his sandals and walked bare-footed, stepping carefully so as not to step on anything that would make a sound. The coyotes were going crazy. As he got closer, he realized they were on the far side of the pool, beneath the oak trees. Hurrying forward, he stepped on something that stuck into his foot, and he said, “Damn,” before he could stop himself

The coyotes may have heard him, but for some reason they didn’t seem to care. They were in a frenzy, and now he could see them leaping wildly beneath one of the oak trees. There must be something up there, he thought. A cat? A possum? A squirrel?

It seemed like a lot of effort for something that small. It wouldn’t make much of a meal for so many coyotes. There must have been six or seven coyotes around the base of the tree, all jumping and yowling.

He didn’t know what to do, or if he should do anything. They deserved to have their food, didn’t they? But he was curious. He wanted to know what they had treed. Maybe it was the neighbor’s cat. They wouldn’t be happy if the coyotes killed their cat. Maybe he’d better scare them off. He stepped forward, waving his stick and shouting, “Hey, get out of here.”

The coyotes stood their ground. He wondered if they were thinking of exchanging him for what was in the tree. He stepped closer, and shouted again, louder. This time, they scattered and took up positions some distance away.

It was dark beneath the oak tree, and, at first, he couldn’t see anything in the branches. Then adjusted to the dark, and he saw the flash of yellow eyes. They were large and far apart. He couldn’t stop looking at them. Finally, as the wind rustled the leaves, letting moonlight through, he saw what it was. A mountain lion. And oh man, it was big.

He felt the hair stand up on his arms, and suddenly he could hear the sound of his own heart beating loudly in his ears. He knew better than to run. Stand your ground. Show your size. He glanced over to where the coyotes were. They were still there, watching, and maybe even a little closer now. That’s all he needed.

His attention was drawn back to the lion when he heard it shift in the branches. Was it coming down? Would it pounce? Maybe the coyotes had scared it so much it would attack anything.

He kept his attention on the shadow in the branches. What to do? Back away? Make more noise? He decided on a different tact. He began to hum, then to sing,


Oh, Sayulita, mi senorita
Te encanta cantar


The yellow eyes flickered and then he thought he saw them glisten. He sang a little louder, and the coyotes joined in the chorus with their mournful cries.


Oh, Sayulita, mi senorita
Te encanta cantar


The days melt away and the evening, I pray, will go on and on
Into the hours when only your voice fills the night
“Te Amo,” I plead, as your song goes higher and higher
But in your dark eyes there burns an unreachable light.


He finished the song in a whisper, and the voices of the coyotes died out. Then, for some reason, they turned and trotted away towards ridge of the river basin. As they disappeared over the edge, Scott looked back up into the tree and thought he heard the mountain lion sigh. Scott decided it was time to back away and leave her in peace.

As he came out from under the trees, he saw Betsy standing in the backyard, the white fabric of her nightgown fluttering in the breeze beneath the translucent moonlight.

When he got to her, she said, “Since when have you been sneaking out to sing with the coyotes.”

Scott just smiled. He put his arm around her shoulder and they walked slowly back up to the house.
Zoe Murdock - My Birthday Story (May 14, 2009)
Social criticism

Ojai songwriters gather for camaraderie and constructive feedback

By Lisa Snider 12/24/2008

In a makeshift garage studio in Ojai, Doc Murdoch plucks away at his guitar and croons about a street musician. Around him, a small group listens intently and takes notes. When the song is over, Laurie Hope takes hold of a Popsicle stick and offers her critique, “Melodically, you need a little variety.”

Murdoch nods and sheepishly offers, “I think that’s true.”

The rest of the group chimes in, asking Murdoch to consider pitch and lyric changes. I want to jump in and defend him. But that would ruin the whole point of this exercise.

This is the monthly meeting of Ojai Songwriters Anonymous, a not-so-anonymous group that gathers to consider each other’s songs and provide honest (sometimes brutally honest) feedback in a genuine effort to improve what’s presented. The Popsicle stick is a prop used to allow the person holding it the ability to offer feedback without interruption.

“Everything is said to help the writer,” explains Scott Smith, who founded the group three years ago. Taking ideas he saw used in a creative writing group along with those used in a typical 12-step program, he came up with a format for the meetings, as well as the inspiration behind the group’s unusual name.

Smith’s meetings are very structured. A page of critique session guidelines is handed to each participant, explaining how best to give and receive feedback, including mandates not to interrupt and, for those on the receiving end, to be strong. Once a song is presented to the group, critique sheets are completed, breaking the feedback down into the smallest components so that each element of a song can receive independent analysis, (i.e., does the rhythm match the lyrics, style and tempo.)

Having played piano since childhood, music has always been in Smith’s life. As keyboardist and manager to the local rock band Myridian (currently on hiatus), Smith was able to tap into his creative and business skills to get the group’s CD Prime Myridian recognized. Now on his own, and with the help of the songwriters group he founded, he has launched his own CD, Your World, under his stage name Smitty West.

Smith came to Ojai 12 years ago from New Orleans following careers in geology and technology. He slowly found ways to focus on his passions: music, native plant farming and the eradication of landmines in his ancestral homeland of Lebanon. He was even commissioned recently to write a song for the Marshall Legacy Institute, a landmine action organization, and was invited to perform it at their annual benefit in Washington, D.C.

Smith sees songwriting as a creative gift. “It was not given to us to hold. It’s meant to share,” he says, adding, “You can’t write songs just for yourself.” The songwriters group, he says, allows writers an opportunity to share their work in a safe, confidential environment, while giving them ways to become better and more successful.

When writers come to the group with excuses to keep their work under wraps, Smith will certainly find a way to encourage them, even if it means accusing them of being selfish. He reminds his shy students of the great works of Michelangelo and DaVinci, telling them, “We’re better as a world because that stuff was shared.”

Smith is also very aware of the power of a good song. “We can be moved by a three-minute Beatles song more than War and Peace.”
Recalling Laurie Hope’s first time at a meeting more than two years ago, he says, “She showed up with a folder of music she’d had for 20 years.” The first song she presented was one she had written for a friend who had just died.

The group encouraged her to keep working. She says that had she not found the group, she likely wouldn’t be where she is today, preparing to release 34 songs on two CDs. “I never would’ve written another song. I certainly wouldn’t have recorded.”

As Doc Murdoch’s critique session wraps up, Hope throws him a bone, which serves to remind everyone why they are there, and says, “It’s like a real message about why we need more songs in the world.”
Radio Ojai Musicians Get Nod From MAVRIC
Ojai musicians Smitty West, Shades of Day, Alan Thornhill and Nathan McEuen are among the recently announced nominees selected to compete in the 2nd Annual MAVRIC Awards (that's Music Awards for Ventura Roots and Independent Creations). Radio Ojai musicians making the cut include Delaney Gibson, Champagne Sunday, Shades of Day and Smitty West.

Judging is weighted and online voting will count for 20%, which will start soon at www.mavric-awards.com. Also, look forward to hearing more about MAVRIC week, giving nominees a chance to perform live before the winners are announced in January.

The MAVRIC Awards will take place on Sunday, January 25th at the Thousand Oaks Civic Center. Last year's awards show was absolutely fantastic - sort of like our very own Grammies! For more details, go to www.mavric-awards.com
Ojai Post - Ojai Post (Nov 23, 2008)
Hi Friends

I'm really happy to be announcing my CD Release Concert. I'm even happier that the producer, Shane Butler of Ojai Concert Series, has agreed to stage this show as a benefit for a cause I hold close to my
heart: the support of landmine victims.

Here's the scoop:
Tuesday Oct 28th
7pm
TICKET Costs: $10 advance, $12 @ door, or $20 including pre-show dinner Smitty West "CD Release Concert" and Benefit for Landmine Victims

PLEASE GET YOUR TICKETS SOON. THE SHOW IS ALREADY 1/2 SOLD FROM ADVANCE SALES. The club only holds about 100 seats. I wish everyone could fit, but they just can't. This may be the only time that these musicians, who played on my CD, will be performing together live.

Here's the producer's press release with all the details:

Announcing the release of his first solo CD, "Your World,"
songwriter-pianist-singer Smitty West performs a concert of the original music from his CD as well as a few favorite covers, backed up by some of Southern California's finest musicians.
Smitty West (stage name for Scott Smith) has just released this eclectic solo collection of 12 original songs, spanning genres of folk, rock, metal, and country.

Backing Smitty are some of Southern California's finest musicians:
Legendary bass guitarist Jim Monahan, drummer/percussionist Bob Nichols, Scott Luedke on guitar, and vocalist Julija Zonic. This is a first time assembly of this band for a live performance.

Smitty will be returning from Washington DC, where he is performing his new song, "The Apple Tree Stands and Waits," a ballad written in support of landmine action. He was commissioned to write this song for the Marshall Legacy Institute's "Clearing the Path Gala" and is singing it live on Tuesday, 10/21st at the Fairmont Hotel Ballroom. This benefit is attended by world leaders, diplomats, congressmen, and supporters of landmine action. Smitty has been a strong advocate of mine action since he inadvertently walked into a minefield in Lebanon in 2004 while visiting his grandfather's home village.

Smitty will perform a multimedia rendition of "The Apple Tree Stands and Waits," and a donation will be made to the Marshall Legacy Institute for every ticket and CD sold at the CD Release Concert.

Smitty (www.smittywest.com) is the founder of Ojai Songwriters Anonymous, a collaborative support group of local songwriters. He has recently completed the scoring of Christopher Devine's, Fighting With Sticks, a high-definition movie shot in Ojai. Just this month, Smitty produced and recorded Jim Monahan's political satire Wasilla Girl, which has received national radio play and is a YouTube favorite with over 10,000 views in three weeks.

He owns and operates Euterpe Farms, a California native plant farm:
http://www.geocities.com/surfohi/euterpe.html

All profits from Smitty's music and farm are donated to supporting "Landmine Action"...helping bring hope to people in war-torn countries.

This show will be held at the beautiful Ojai Valley Woman's Club, 441 E. Ojai Avenue, Ojai, California. Show starts at 7:00 PM, with doors open at 6:30 for will-call and at 6:45 for ticket buyers. All seating is first come, first served. Ticket prices for kids under 14, are 1/2 of the parents' ticket price.

If you want to meet Smitty and the band for a bite before the show, join us at Il Giardino Restaurant for a special Italian buffet at 5:45pm. It's just a one-minute walk to the Woman's Club from the restaurant at 401 E. Ojai Ave. ONLY $20 INCLUDES THE DELICIOUS ITALIAN BUFFET AND A TICKET TO THE SHOW! (drinks, dessert, etc. are extra) Please call ahead for a reservation 805.640.7381. Ramiro Santana, the owner of Il Giardino's, is a strong supporter of local music and landmine action as well, and he was happy to support this show with this great deal on some delicious food. If you already have a ticket to the show, they'll knock $10 off the $20 price.

Purchase Advance Tickets at these Ojai locations:
Ojai Creates 606 E. Ojai Ave, Serendipity Toys 221 E. Matilija, and Cardinali Brothers Music 139 W. El Roblar (Meiners Oaks)
Ojai Concert Series - CD Release Concert Press Release and message from Smitty (Oct 19, 2008)
Click below to hear interviews with Ojai VIPs, including Smitty of course, who were present at the World-famous Ojai Day!
Dear Smitty West;

Congratulations. Because of your standings in the charts at SongPlanet. com, you have been selected to have your song played in the August edition of Mike Cameo’s Indies’ Top 10 Rock.

We would like to play "Sandman" on the show and also include any upcoming news, releases or tour dates you may have coming up. It’s a chance for you to showcase your music on our international show.


Again, congratulations. And we look forward to hearing from you soon.

Edward Galt, Executive Producer
Graham Cracker Productions
Indies’ Top 10 Pop, Indies’ Top 10 Rock
http://www. indiestop10. com
RIVIERA NAYARIT INSPIRES CALIFORNIA SONG WRITER

‘Sayulita,’ a Tale of Mysterious Love by Smitty West, Celebrates Beauty, Passion of Mexico’s Newest Vacation Destination

RIVIERA NAYARIT, Mexico – Long before the rest of the world discovered its pleasures, Smitty West was enchanted by the Pacific sunsets, the beaches and the timeless charm of Riviera Nayarit. Now the Californian singer/song writer and keyboard player for the rock band Myridian has captured not only the beauty but the intoxicating passion and mysterious appeal of Mexico’s newest vacation destination in song.

“Sayulita,” along with “Posiblemente,” is featured on West’s solo album, “Your World.” Both songs were inspired by numerous visits with friends on the beaches of Nayarit and written there. “Sayulita,” named for a delightfully bohemian Nayarit art colony, with its beachfront alfresco restaurants, stylish shops and fine art galleries, tells of sunsets, swaying bodies, dark eyes and the sea.

In addition to his writing and performing, West is the founder of Ojai Songwriters Anonymous, a collaborative support group of songwriters in California. He also has been chosen as principal composer for Christopher Devine’s high-def film, Playing With Sticks. The album “Your World” features 12 original songs by West spanning the genres of folk, rock, Latin, metal and country.

Lyrics for “Sayulita”

Oh Sayulita, mi senorita Te encanta cantar.

You came to me in an afternoon dream, and the sky on fire. Your dark body sways, commanding the music to start. Enchanted by passion, your song casts a spell in the twilight. The cool evening air cannot quench the fire in my heart.

The days melt away and the evening, I pray, will go on and on. Into the hours when only your voice fills the night. “Te amo,” I plead, as your song goes higher and higher. But in your dark eyes there burns an unreachable light.

I know not whether the future can ever release my love. For now I know clearly, your song was never for me. The flame in your heart…I see now that no man can own it. El canto del mar…you only can sing to the sea.

About Riviera Nayarit Riviera Nayarit is Mexico’s newest travel destination stretching along 100 miles of pristine Pacific coast framed by spectacular mountains to the north of renowned Puerto Vallarta. Mostly undeveloped, the destination extends from the resorts of Nuevo Vallarta to the historic, colonial town of San Blas, including exclusive Punta Mita and the spectacular Banderas Bay. The region features luxury resorts and eco-tourism boutique hotels, world-renowned surfing, four professional golf courses, rare native wildlife including sea turtles and tropical birds, mountain and island adventures, shopping for local artwork and traditional Huichol handicrafts, charming fishing towns and miles of serene beaches. For more information, visit: www.RivieraNayarit.com.
Local Smitty West (some know him as Scott Smith) recently told me he is a huge coffee drinker, adding “My family is trying to get me to go to CA….Caffeine Anonymous, but I know I can quit at any time so I don’t need to go.” Between sips of coffee, he released his new CD “Your World.” This is the first video from the CD, from the single on track three, “Sequoia,” which he wrote while camping in the Sierras and seeing the destruction of a forest of Sequoias that had been logged more than a hundred years ago:



You can hear another one of Smitty's singles from the CD, an ode to Ojai called "It Ain't Mine," and learn more here.
great video, powerful song, great combination of the two...your song puts you in good company with america's greatest poet, walt whitman. in his "song of the redwood" his redwood speaks too (in italics).
awesome video..powerful imagery fits the lyrics..love that mandolin in the end and harmonies throughtout.
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect offering . . ., February 21, 2012
This review is from: To Leonard With Love (Seven Songs from Leonard Cohen) (MP3 Download)

I've listened to the songs of Leonard Cohen for years, and have always been struck by the way they open my heart and mind to something deeply human and authentic. The seven songs on this tribute album from Smitty West and Julija Zonic are some of his most powerful songs in terms of that effect.

Cohen's songs are never easy, he can't seem to rest until he has reached a point of perfect equilibrium. The play of opposites continues back and forth until all sides of the emotional equation have been explored and laid out in a perfect tenuous balance. When I listen to Cohen sing his songs, it feels like I have entered the sacred interior space of a mind engaged in a critical internal dialogue. It is a fragile mind, that forces itself to continue down through the layers, no matter how painful it is, no matter how hard, until it reaches the core of compassion and understanding.

What fascinates me about this album from Smitty and Julija, is the way they bring that internal dialogue out into the space of the world, enacting the conversation, as if it were a play, a tragedy, perhaps. The story proceeds from one song to the next, from beginning to end, moving through a whole spectrum of human emotions. The script belongs to Leonard Cohen, but Smitty and Julija understand their parts. They know what the songs are about, and it is evident that they have lived life fully and know how it feels to love, to suffer, to feel joy and compassion. Smitty's expression comes vibrantly through his voice, which is deep and resonant and fine, but it also comes through his hands on the keyboard and from his anticipation and love of what is to come when his own voice retreats: Julija's voice. She soars. She expresses every nuance of every emotion, perfectly. The movement between the two of them is sublime. It's balanced. It's rich. Neither one demands too much, neither retreats. It is just as the songs require.

Zoe Murdock - Amazon (Mar 2, 2012)