Winter Park / Live Music: Harpist puts down the hammer |

Winter Park / Live Music: Harpist puts down the hammer

Few have the world-class chops of harmonica wizard Chris “Hammer” Smith. But don’t take my word for it. Grand County has the opportunity to hear him Sunday.

As part of its September 2008 Arizona-to-Colorado tour, The Hammer Smith Band returns to the area for a performance at the Winter Park Pub to promote their new CD, “New Tricks.”

Smith began playing harmonica in the late 1960s, during a surfing trip. He bought his first harmonica on that trip, and instead of surfing, he played music.

“I just started playing harp for the sheer joy of it,” he said. “I had no intention of taking it seriously, doing gigs, (or) making a living at it.”

Harp-master Rick Epping opened his eyes to Irish fiddle tunes and he found a mentor in “phenomenal” blues legend Sonny Terry. He started sitting in with the local band while going to go to Colorado State University to teach math and it was then that he knew he “had to commit to doing what I loved, not just make a living.” He picked up guitar, mainly to help him write songs. As a first, the new CD has him playing most of the guitar parts.

“Hammer,” his nickname and band name, come from his days as a bike racer ” putting the bike in the highest and hardest gear, “going flat out,” he explains.

The frontman, singer, songwriter and guitarist for the “rockin’ blues trio” has recorded with many well-known artists and his first CD went to No. 9 on the New Adult

Contemporary charts. His recording with Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney on “Say, Say, Say” that went to No. 1 was one of his major career highlights, he said. “At the time, circa 1980, (Jackson) was the brightest star in the music world, bar none. It was before CDs, no one was buying records, and with ‘Off the Wall’ (my fav of his) he single-handedly rescued the music business.”

Other highlights include the standing ovation the band got after its performance at The Portland Waterfront Blues Fest in 2005 and recording with Gary Wright on “Dream Weaver.” Smith said he sold and autographed CDs for almost an hour after the Portland show and that Wright thought his harp solo “was so burning (he) dropped the synth part” Smith had also recorded with him for the piece.

The other two talents that make up the band, which formed in the early 1980s, are Oliver “Ollie” Steinberg on bass and Paul “Mike” Lopez on drums. The high-energy band, based out of Los Angeles, Calif. plays an authentic style of electric blues with influences of jazz, Cajun, country and rock. Members’ versatility and the band’s wide-range appeal has had them playing for such blues legends as Bonnie Raitt, Albert King, Big Joe Turner, B.B. King, and Johnny Winter and Smith hopes their music moves the masses.

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