In the music biz, singer-songwriter Taylor Barton considers herself a kitten. But her husband, former Saturday Night Live band leader G.E. Smith, is a cat, she says.
In explanation of her metaphor, Ms. Barton said when performing, she sets the stage with her soulful, folk sound and then Mr. Smith takes the microphone with a rocking roar.
Neither is a stranger to the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, which has served as a stage many times over during Mr. Smith’s lengthy career, as well as for his wife’s first steps into the spotlight, and for their annual summer set, which this year will be on Monday, August 22. And just like in the rules of real estate, location is also a key player when it comes to the attractiveness of the Talkhouse, though that’s certainly not the only reason Mr. Smith and Ms. Barton like it.
“Also, we can walk there in three minutes,” Mr. Smith said during an interview by the pool of his summer home in Amagansett. “It’s got that going for it. But for me, the Talkhouse is great because I’m a bar guy. I came up from when I was a little kid, playing in bars when I was 11 years old. It’s a classic American joint, it really is.”
“That’s my only experience,” Ms. Barton added. “I haven’t had the 60,000-arena experience. These are my people.”
The Talkhouse show will be the last time to catch the duo on the East End for awhile. Come September, Ms. Barton will be back in Manhattan with the couple’s daughter, 9-year-old, Josie. Then, Mr. Smith, best known as the longtime musical director for the band on “Saturday Night Live,” hits the road with Roger Waters’ “The Wall Live” tour in January, which will take him to New Zealand, Australia and South America, he said.
On Monday, Ms. Barton will kick off the show with an acoustic set, her husband accompanying her on guitar.
“That’s what I really like to do. I like to play with good singers,” Mr. Smith said. “I never really had the big aspirations to be a front man. I liked being in the band and making the band sound a certain way.”
But at the Talkhouse, Mr. Smith—who has toured with Hall and Oates, Bob Dylan, and Hot Tuna—will take the lead during the second half of the show with bassist John Leventhal and drummer Shawn Pelton. Aside from player lineup, Mr. Smith said the rest of the night is generally a mystery to him.
“I kind of never know what I’m going to play until I get there,” he said. “I come from that school. With Dylan, we’d be walking to the stage and he’d say, ‘What do you want to start with?,’ which was fun. And after all this time, I know a lot of songs, so it’s never a problem.”
Ms. Barton estimated that her husband knows between 2,000 and 5,000 songs, but Mr. Smith said he has no way of knowing.
“There’s only 12 notes. It’s a simple language,” he said. “Like French or Spanish or English. It’s how you combine them and what you do. It’s the only thing I know how to do.”
At the age of 4, Mr. Smith picked up his first guitar. At 7, he started to play, and just four years later, he was playing in bar bands, he reported.
“I was obsessed with it. I just loved the way that the strings looked when you hit ’em and they vibrated,” he said. “I got that, that the vibration made the sound. It just really made sense to me. I don’t know. That’s the only time I’m not nervous, when I’m playing. The rest of the time I feel kind of awkward, don’t really know what to do.”
Mr. Smith’s career began ascending in 1979, when soul band Hall and Oates came calling for him. He then played lead guitar with the band for six years.
“To be part of that, it just really blew up and we traveled all over the world, sold millions and millions of records,” he recalled. “That was like a dream. Then they wanted to take a break in 1985 and I came out here, to Springs, to rent a little house. And then right away, the ‘Saturday Night Live’ position opened up. I was lucky.”
During his time at “SNL,” Mr. Smith played with the likes of Eddie Van Halen, Keith Richards, Rickie Lee Jones, Al Green and Bryan Ferry, to name a few. While there, he also undertook an almost four-year tour with Bob Dylan, flying back to the set whenever he needed to play in the show.
“I loved Bob’s music, I knew so many of his songs,” Mr. Smith said. “I probably knew the first 10 or 12 albums before I even got the job.”
In his early years, Mr. Smith was influenced by the “British Invasion,” but not so much by the Beatles, he recalled.
“Where I lived in Pennsylvania [he’s from Stroudsburg], it was in the great big hills, and you couldn’t get reception if you were down,” he paused, making a valley will his hands. “You couldn’t get the New York stations or anything.
“Friday nights, we’d drive up on the top,” he continued. “We’d get five or six cars and you had to drive the car in just the right spot, and get them all on the same station and turn it up real loud, and we’d get out and listen— the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, all the harder English stuff.”
The musician then got turned on to the blues, particularly Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry, which became his main influence, he said.
Ms. Barton said she loves the original singer-songwriter girl pioneers, such as Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks. More recently, she’s listening to Adele and Ingrid Michaelson, and some of her daughter’s top picks, too.
“We had a little Taylor Swift thing going on with Josie,” Mr. Smith said.
“She loves Lady GaGa,” Ms. Barton added. “So she got me into Lady GaGa.”
“I kinda like some of that Lady GaGa stuff,” Mr. Smith admitted. “She makes a big entrance.”
And while the couple’s show at the Talkhouse will definitely be played more subtly than Lady GaGa’s over-the-top style, Ms. Barton said she promises an experience that will be hard to forget.
“It’s intimate, for them and us, too,” she said. “Here, you can see the people responding to your music, and as a performer, that’s one of the greatest gifts. That’s why you want to do it. You want to see that you made somebody laugh, or cry, or feel—just feel.
“It’s that fun, raucous roadhouse at the Talkhouse,” she continued. “Not for my set, but for his. I don’t think I’ve ever created a fight in a bar, do you?”
Mr. Smith let out a gravelly chuckle.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Not yet.”
G.E. Smith and Taylor Barton will play the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on Monday, August 22, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 267-3117 or visit stephentalkhouse.com.
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