AltNation: Steve Smith, WHEM, and More

Steve Smith and the Nakeds Turn 45

Celebrating four and a half decades this February are acclaimed R&B/soul group Steve Smith and the Nakeds. The band has become a mainstay of the live music circuit both locally (there’s no higher level of RI cred than being featured in the final Benny’s commercial) and nationally.

What makes an artist remain vital for 45 years? The most obvious draw of the Nakeds is the terrifically tight horn section, an irreplaceable element that puts the group way above your average soul quartet. Smith agrees that the horns are a big part of what kept people coming back for 45 years. “You really don’t see a 10-piece band with five horns that much anymore, and even a lot of the national acts play to tapes,” says Smith. “I think people enjoy seeing real music.”

Credit is also due to Smith, with his great stage presence and a voice that has really held up over the years. The history of the Nakeds, a band that has had 63 members in its different forms, is a long one. Smith started out in the hard rock band Bloody Mary, and in 1973 he joined Naked Truth, one of the first rock ‘n’ roll bands in Rhode Island to carry its own horn section. They found success through the ’70s, and changed their name to the Nakeds in 1981.

Though superstardom never materialized, there have been some impressive and unexpected career highlights. When Springsteen broke up the E street band in ‘91, The Nakeds for a while became the backing band of saxophonist Clarence Clemons, touring with him for a number of years. Later, their song “I’m Huge (And The Babes Go Wild)” ended up as a  bonus feature on a “Family Guy” DVD and took off online, giving the band a surprising boost and getting them a record deal. They were inducted into the RI Music Hall of Fame in 2013.

”Not in my wildest dreams” did Smith ever think he would still be making a living playing music for this long. “We’ve been lucky — over the years, when the band seems to be losing luster,

Steve Smith and the Nakeds

Steve Smith and the Nakeds

something usually happens to bring it back. Like the partnership with Clemons, or our song recently featured in Dumb and Dumber To,” said Smith.

“I think one of the other big reasons we’ve stayed together is we always kept the focus on the music, and not the partying and false idols that often come with it,” said Smith. “We just kept plugging along.”

For those who have never seen the horns in all their glory, there are plenty of opportunities – they maintain an impressive roster of gigs. The Nakeds will share a bill at The Stadium Theatre on February 3 with fellow RI lifers John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band and Roomful of Blues. They also have upcoming dates at Pub on Park (Feb 9) and the Ocean Mist (Feb 18).

When asked if booking the full horn section is ever negotiable, Smith replied, “Absolutely not. It’s an essential part of the sound, so you’re either going to get the whole package or nothing at all.” I suppose you don’t last this long by compromising your principals.

Rhode Island Music Legends Concert goes down this Sat, Feb 3 at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket. 

WHEM – Get on This Bandwidth

With downsizing and consolidation everywhere you look these days, the fake radio broadcasting biz can be brutal. Luckily, local brotherly duo Horse Eyed Men possess the constitution for it, and have been killing it for almost a year. WHEM (Horse Eyed Men) is a sendup of an old radio variety hour that has been going steady every first Thursday at the Columbus Theatre.

A statement from the group reads: “The show features local and national musical talent, skits, imaginary promotional offers, interviews and a recurring segment called ‘Mom’s Attic,’ in which we raffle off items from our mother’s attic (really).”

These shows are a real treat. They’ll wow you with creative flair and regale you with whimsicality, like the epic tale last month of Noah Harley’s brutal decimation in a phone app at the hands of an 8-year-old Chinese boy.

The series has become quite successful, “for reasons completely unbeknownst to its hosts,” and past guests include Willy Mason, Roz Raskin and Hubby Jenkins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Highlights for me have been Malian percussionist Sidy Maïga and Cowboy and Lady.

Thursday’s show will feature New York folksingers Feral Foster and Ali Dineen. In the words of WHEM, “Drop by, tune in and flip out!”

The next installment of WHEM goes down Feb 1 at The Columbus Theatre. Doors are at 7, show begins promptly at 8.

Torn Shorts

As far as local music goes, every Torn Shorts show seems to be an event, and with good reason. They provide audiences with unpretentious, solid songwriting and a bluesy flair.

Their last release, 2016’s Be My Mechanic combines revved-up, Black Keys-style blues (“All them Kids,” “Be My Mechanic”) and jangly rock tunes (“Run with Me”). There may be a few more extended guitar solos than I usually prefer, but you certainly won’t be let down by their live show.

Torn Shorts and The Freeway Revival roll into Alchemy on Wed, Feb 21 at 9pm.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

I sort of missed the boat with Jason Isbell and his recent rise to fame, but an airing of his band on “Austin City Limits” a few weeks ago showed what all the fuss is about. They put on a pretty epic live performance, which definitely amps up the material on the records. It’s the kind of act that would make sense headlining at a festival.

Their sound is gritty but refined, like a bar band that went to music school. Isbell rocks killer harmonies with girlfriend/fiddle player Amanda Shires and there is excellent playing from the whole band. James McMurty opens the show.

Jason Isbell comes to The Vets Auditorium Fri, Feb 2. Show at 8pm.

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