Vintage Hard Rock and Heavy Metal


May 31, 2013

Heaven & Earth guitarist Stuart Smith rejuvenates creativity

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Written by: Patrick Prince
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The appearance of Heaven & Earth on the music scene may seem excitingly brand new but the moniker has been the creative brainchild of guitarist Stuart Smith (ex-Sweet) for quite some time. It doesn’t make the band any less exciting, however. The new Heaven & Earth album Dig on Quarto Valley Records is filled to the brim with power rock — arena-sized and loud — exactly what the doctor ordered for fans who miss both the hard rock heyday of the ’80s and the keyboard-induced rock of the ’70s (Deep Purple, Rainbow, etc).

Under Smith’s creativity, Heaven & Earth already has two albums released. Heaven & Earth used to be a project to fuel Stuart’s musical creativity. Now Heaven & Earth is finally a full-fledged band (with singer Joe Retta, bassist Chuck Wright, drummer Richie Onori and keyboardist Ed Roth) as guitarist Stuart Smith explains in the following interview.

Do you think many people realize that Heaven & Earth really started out as a solo project?
Stuart Smith: I would think that the regular fans we have are aware of that but obviously with the push we’ve had from Quarto Valley Records we’ve gained a lot of new ones so I doubt all of them are familiar with the first two CDs.

Regarding Dig — you recently claimed “we’re considering this our first album.”
Smith: The first album was really a solo album. I didn’t have a band at the time so I just called up all my friends and asked them to play on it. On the second one Windows to the World there was no real band, just Richie Onori, Kelly Keeling (vocals) and myself. With Dig we specifically put together a band that we could record and tour with. We also recorded it in the same room as each other at the same time so I really view this as the first “real’ Heaven & Earth album.

Your web site describes Heaven & Earth as “old-school rock with a new-school attitude.” Is that how you would describe it?
Smith: Yes, I guess you could call it that. Most of our influences came from the ’70s bands but we’ve used modern technology, mixed with old, to record it and I feel that the songs have a more modern edge to them.

Besides ‘old-school rock,’ you can hear the influence classical music has had on you. This influence came very early on in your life, didn’t it?
Smith: Yes, I was playing classical guitar when I was 8 years old.

Ritchie Blackmore was a mentor. When and how did you become friends with Ritchie Blackmore? He seems to be a very private person.
Smith: I met Richie originally at a party after a Deep Purple show. He was the one who convinced me to pack up and move to the States. Yes, I would say he is a very private person. I’d also say that he’s one of the funniest, intelligent, talented and sensitive people I’ve ever met but unfortunately most people aren’t lucky enough to get to see that side of him.

What has Ritchie Blackmore taught you as a guitar player?
Smith: It’s not what you put in. It’s what you leave out.

You’ve collaborated with many professional musicians in your life. What has become a cherished memory for you?
Smith: There’s been so many moments but sharing the stage with Buddy Guy, with Ritchie Blackmore, with Paul Rodgers, and with Keith Emerson have been pretty amazing.

New fans may not know the close ties Heaven & Earth has with Sweet.
Smith: Although we’d tried before, without success, Steve Priest and I put Sweet back together in 2008, released a live album and toured for five years. I left last year.

Your time with Steve Priest’s version of Sweet was a lot of fun for long-standing fans.
Smith: It was a good band.

Have you quit Sweet for good?
Smith: Yes.

Was Heaven & Earth always in your mind as your true ambition?
Smith: I would have carried on with Sweet had Steve Priest been prepared to move forward and record a new album but everything happens for a reason and I wouldn’t change where I am now for anything.

What have been some of your favorite Heaven & Earth songs prior to Dig? And will those songs still be on Heaven & Earth’s set list?
Smith: There’s a lot of good songs that I’d like to revisit off both the previous albums but we’ll probably ask the fans what they’d like to hear live in concert and add different ones to the set list on different nights.

Which song is your favorite on Dig and why?
Smith: It changes all the time but right now I’d say “Victorious,” as it shows what a brilliant guitarist I am.

Dig is a great name for an album. In all its simplicity, it can say many different things.
Smith: It is a good title. Originally I wanted to call the album Back in Anger but when (artist) Glen Wexler came up with that cover idea and the title it made perfect sense as we are trying to ‘dig up’ rock ‘n’ roll as it’s been buried for far too long.

dig_albumcoverGreat art on the cover. How did you get [acclaimed artist and photographer] Glen Wexler’s talent on board and did you contribute ideas to it?
Smith: I think Glen and Chuck have been friends since puberty. Chuck introduced us and Glen got excited about the band so he came on board as our art director for the entire project. He’s brilliant.

The album is released on 180gram vinyl. Are you surprised how vinyl releases are almost a necessity for serious music fans in the era of MP3s?
Smith: I am surprised but, yes, you’re right. Vinyl sales are up about 46% this year and it’s funny that you forget how good it sounds. I heard Dig on vinyl for the first time this weekend and was blown away. Also the cover art looks incredible when it’s that big.

How did you get Richie Sambora to contribute to the Dig?
Smith: Richie used to be my brother-in-law and we’ve remained friends ever since. He sang on the first Heaven & Earth album and the fans loved it. When we were recording Dig I went down to the studio where Richie was recording his solo album to borrow a guitar off of him because I needed a Gibson SG for a track and I don’t have one. I’m down there and we both had to sign a guitar for a charity thing and we had a picture taken that went out on the internet of the two of us standing there with this guitar and all the fans picked up on it and were like “Are you and Richie going to collaborate on something again?’ ‘We really loved what you did before!’ I called Richie and said the fans are asking us to do something again, what do you think? He said “I get more attention playing stuff on your album, then I do my own album.” (laughs) He said yeah, and Richie is so great. At the time he was incredibly busy between touring with Bon Jovi, he had his solo album out, he was doing interviews, TV shows, touring and the one day he had off in three months he came into the studio and spent six hours with us, so I love him to death for that!

Will Heaven & Earth tour this year? Who would you envision as a perfect band to team up with on a tour?
Smith: Definitely. We’re looking for the right agent or tour to get on as we speak. I can’t wait to get out and play live. Would love to tour with someone like Aerosmith. Saw them just recently at the Staple Center in Los Angeles and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

Are you always writing songs? How do you think Heaven & Earth progresses musically from here?
Smith: Yes, I write all the time. As we’re not actively in the process of writing for a new album at the moment I just record riff or title ideas on my iPhone. I was just on holiday with Joe Retta in Cancun for 10 days and we came up with some good riffs. No idea what we’ll come up with for the next album but I’m looking forward to it.

Go to www.heavenandearthband.com for more information.



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