Guitarist Chris Smith recently emailed and professed his love of all things Glam. He does custom guitar arrangements and even had his tabs featured on Motley.com. Since I'm an avid guitar player and collector, I asked him some questions about his craft.
CG: How long have you been playing guitar?
CS: 21 years! I started at 13 years old… when I decided I wanted a “cooler” hobby than collecting Baseball cards or playing video games.
CG:How long have you been creating tabs for guitar ?
CS: I’ve been creating guitar tablature since 1999. I had just discovered a freeware program that did exactly what I wanted it to do… make nice looking non-ASCII guitar tablature. The program is called PowerTab. Being a guitarist on the web, I am sure you have heard of it!
CG: Did you ever play in a band ? How did it go ?
CS: I’ve played with several people over the years, but only had 1 band that actually worked out well. I started to be very selective about who I played with, because I wanted to go out and play quality venues, which requires more work and a higher dedication to practice. I found myself in Missouri for a few years, and played in a Blues Rock band that played all over the state. It was nice to get paid to play, but it was even better playing in a nice club with musicians who played well, and truly enjoyed what they were doing!
CG: How did you get your tabs on to Motley.com ?
CS: Quite easily, to be honest. I emailed the webmaster, Shaun Pollitt, and asked him if the band would like to host my PowerTabs of their songs on their page. All I asked, was that the old ASCII tabs be removed, since most of them were replaced by my PDF copies anyways. If you check here, you can scroll to the bottom of the page, and you’ll see my old email address from CompuServe on their homepage!
The dates on this are from 2001, but archive.org snapshotted this in February 2002.
The 2nd link is the last verifiable date my tabs were hosted on their homepage. Further crawls into their “Discography” section by archive.org were showing errors.
CG: As a guitarist, I know there's a lot of controversy surrounding online tabs, because companies have paid for the right to any representation of a bands music, in notation. How do you deal with that? How do you get permission to create these tabs? Do you have to pay licensing to the artists?
CS: Well, there has always been controversy over this subject, and it is a complicated topic, to be sure. I don’t have any deals with anyone, because there is no easy way to contact or even present what I do to bands or major publishers. No matter how good you are, publishers don’t want anyone without a music degree, and if you do go work for them, you don’t end up working on material you enjoy. However, if approached about it, and there is a way for us to work together, then I will happily do this for a band who wants it done.
CG: How I deal with it is simple. I don’t do transcriptions of currently popular artists, or of albums that a major publisher currently has in print or readily available. You will never see me do AC/DC, Metallica, or anything like that… support your local music store and go buy it!
CS: What I have always done, is just focus on filling a hole that the major publishers don’t care to fill… Hal Leonard doesn’t care about releasing old niche 80’s Rock albums in their entirety, but instead will shove a Greatest Hits book for an artist in front of you, and tell you…”That’s all you get!”. I know people out there want those songs they won’t publish, and that’s what I do! You could compare it to having your guitar instructor tab something out for you, and you pay him for it… They are just my interpretations of what I hear on the album. I have yet to be approached about it, because it is such a small group of people I am offering my services to. I specialize in 80’s Rock and Hair Bands… There isn’t that much call for that sort of thing, so I haven’t really even been a blip on the radar. I hope this interview doesn’t change that for the worse!
CG: How do you choose what tabs to do ? I was sad that the Vince Neil song you did, has already been tabbed elsewhere. Do you take requests ?
CS: Well, that depends on what I am doing. If I am doing a single song, sometimes it has been just to try different notation styles, and layout styles. Sometimes, it is just because I really like a song, and there isn’t a good rendition of it available online. I’ll be doing a single Hanoi Rocks tune for the Freebies section shortly. The Vince Neil song is a derivative work, but it is my own arrangement with corrections and different fingerings that make more sense when trying to play it back. That was a testing ground for layout styling of vocals without a notation staff, which is sometimes preferred by tabbers who don’t want to work out the melody line. It’s a cool song, so I thought it should see the light of day again, since there is no way of getting another professional quality transcription of it, without digging for an old back issue of Guitar School magazine.
When working on a full album, it is generally something that people would love to see on paper, but aren’t able to have the chance. This could be because an album’s book is out of print (lots of 80’s rock material!), or because it never was released by a major publisher in the U.S. Some great albums never made it into a book published by WB, Hal Leonard, or Cherry Lane… Some did, and REALLY suck! For the out of print books, all you have as an option is eBay, or Amazon… and the prices can get ridiculous for an out of print, inaccurate book! Anyone who grew up buying guitar books in the 80’s or early 90’s would know exactly the kinds of books I am referring to… I could create a “wall of shame” with some of the transcriptions that have been put into official books in the past, which now sell for $50+ on ebay… Who wants to pay $50+ for an inaccurate book? Being an Iron Maiden fan, and a guitarist, I am sure you have seen your fair share of “official” books in the past that just didn’t come close…
I would definitely take requests, but I am not always able to fulfill them. I try not to transcribe anything past my own skill level of playing, so I would have to evaluate the level of difficulty before taking it on. I try to emphasize that I provide a custom service, but at the same time, I am also trying to appeal to a larger audience within this niche market. I’m just trying to make other hair/glam rock guitarists happy, while trying to make a small bit of compensation for my efforts of laying it out on paper for you as accurately as possible with today’s technology.
CG: Do you like any modern glam bands ? Do you plan to tab any of their work ? What about other types of heavy metal or guitar music ?
CS: I LOVE Steel Panther! I’m getting more into some of the newer Glam bands, and am discovering some of the bands I missed out on in the past. I should have been born 10 years earlier, because I like stuff that my peers think is too “cheesy.” My peers talk about guys like Zakk Wylde and Dimebag Darrell, and Kurt Cobain… I prefer bands like Danger Danger (Andy Timmons is the man!), Mötley Crüe, Poison, Ratt, Dokken, and Winger! I am not afraid to say that I think Kip Winger is a musical genius! I don’t have any plans to tab any of the newer artists, as they still have the chance to get published the old fashioned way.
CG: Is your tabbing site your "day job?" Would you like for it to be ? Do you also give lessons or do anything else guitar related ?
CS: Not yet… I have not made a website in the past for financial gain, so the idea is kind of new to me. I would like it to be, and am working towards a different site dedicated to educating others on the finer points of using Avid’s Sibelius software to create professional looking guitar tabs. I have been doing guitar related things online for a long time, in one form or another. I helped spread the word about PowerTab in the past, with my old site Hair Rocker’s Heaven, which was one of the first sites to host complete PowerTab files on the internet.
The PowerTab Archives at www.powertabs.net was started by some of my contributors and others, who wanted a more community driven page that catered to guitarists of all types. I am an editor on that site, and member #6 of over 20,000 that had registered over the past 10 years. That place should ring familiar with guitarists online who have used PowerTab at all. I’m not very active there anymore, but still keep in personal contact with the site owner. I also occasionally pop into the forums to chat.
CG: How do people contact you, or find out more?