Husband-wife duo to bring some Electric Healing to Brackins
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tom Smith doesn’t hesitate when asked about a particular moment in his life that altered the way he thought about music.
Sept. 2, 1978: The Grateful Dead at Giants Stadium. A gangly teenager, Smith took a Port Authority bus from New York, nervous and alone, across the river and trekked into the venue with thousands of “these super-duper hippies,” he told The Daily Times this week.
“It wasn’t long after the music started that I really felt at home,” he said. “There was something about that situation that had a whole lot more to do than just music; music was not even the biggest part. I wouldn’t say I’ve been trying to reproduce that ever since, because I’ve had experiences since then that helped solidify that, but I’ve always felt a kind of a healing vibe when I’ve played music, and I’ve noticed its effects on people as a player.”
As half of the duo known as Electric Healing, which performs at Brackins Blues Club in downtown Maryville on Saturday night, Smith and his bass-playing wife, Susan, set out to recreate that healing vibe every time they plug in. They base what they do in old-school rock ‘n’ roll and blues, but Smith’s nuanced picking might result in a bluegrass run, a surf-punk guitar solo or a rockabilly lick getting tossed into the mix at any given time.
It’s all part and parcel of Electric Healing’s desire to lighten the load of its listeners, Smith said.
“I remember I went to a party one time, and I decided to bring along a guitar and an amp, which are pretty much permanently attached to me anyway,” he said. “There was this guy there, and he looked like a biker, but his arms were crossed and he just looked angry. Well, he brought a bass, and we started jamming, and it wasn’t too long that not only did the guy lighten up, but his whole disposition changed.
“I will admit, with malice aforethought, that I wanted to crack this guy’s case and get him to smile, and before I knew it, he was giving me giant hugs and turned into this little flower child all of the sudden, and clearly, getting into the music is what did it. Music is a carrier wave, and the healing intent rides on it.”
A long-time rambling man, Smith eventually landed in East Tennessee with his wife and son a few years ago; at one of the first open-mic jams at Relix Variety Theatre in Downtown North Knoxville, a couple of young girls jumped on stage with him, their mother standing off to the side and smiling.
“Susan was their mom, and her two girls and my son became friends; my wife left the state with my son, and after the ensuing divorce, Susan and I made it official,” he said.
He taught her how to play the bass, and Electric Healing began gigging unobtrusively at places like the old House Tavern on Chapman Highway and Toot’s Little Honky Tonk in Downtown North. They worked up eight or so originals and a healthy setlist of cover tunes — although some, Smith said, are so rearranged that they might be unrecognizable.
“I like to take extreme liberties — not because I’m such a creative genius, but because I can’t sing like my favorite artist,” he said with a laugh. “If there’s a song I’ve got to play, but I can’t do it the way it’s known and loved, I’ll find a way to do it. For example, I just cannot play a Beatles songs straight, no way. I don’t have the vocal chops, and the instrumentation isn’t there. I really like to work on arrangements like that.
“That’s where the healing comes in for me, where I will get into what the rhythm section is doing and just leave this place and go out there and just play what hits me instead of thinking what the next note’s going to be, I’m listening like everyone else. To me, that’s high adventure. That’s great fun, and I’ve found it gets people’s attention.”