Rhonda Smith Discusses the Gift that has Loved Her Back

black female bass player performing onstage
Photo by Jim Belmont

As seen in
Guitar Girl Magazine Special Edition 2022 – I Belong

World-renowned bassist Rhonda Smith has worked alongside the likes of musical geniuses such as Prince, Chaka Khan, Beyoncé, Jeff Beck, and more. Her skills and musicianship are unparalleled, skyrocketing her to success. She has made her mark in the music industry and is an inspiration to many female-identifying bassists. Guitar Girl Magazine had the pleasure of interviewing Rhonda about her love for music.

When did you start playing the bass, and who are some of your influences?
I started playing bass around 11 when my older brother brought a bass home and told me not to touch it. I was influenced and inspired by great bass players like Stanley Clarke, Jaco, Geddy Lee, Chris Squire, Mingus, and Ray Brown.

How has Montreal’s musical culture influenced you as a musician?
It affected me greatly. There was nothing like an environment supporting live music, and that was what Montreal was about. They truly support musicians and live music.

What made you decide to leave Canada, and in what ways did you have to pivot your career for continued success?
At the time, I felt I had done what I could as an English-speaking writer and musician in a French Canadian environment. I had toured with many of the best French Canadian artists and wanted to do something different; I got that opportunity when I met Prince. I’ve never looked back. I still have a fond place in my heart for Canada. It’s a beautiful country that has produced international artists and superstars!

Photo by Charles Shoenberger

What are some of your most memorable moments from working with Prince?
Being a part of his world was a significant moment in my life. He taught me so much about performance, production, bass, and business. I’ve never worked harder, but it was worth every note.

Tell us about your upcoming tour with Jeff Beck & Johnny Depp.
This Jeff Beck/Johnny Depp tour showcases their recently released album. We toured with them in 2019 for an early showcase, but COVID shut it down for two years. It’s a great album; the band and the people behind the scenes are all great people. It was nice to have a change of pace; it was also an excellent break for Johnny! We started back touring in the U.K. in May/June and will now be in Europe throughout the rest of the summer.

What drew you to a fretless bass? What’s your go-to setup when on stage and touring?
The sound drew me in (Jaco Pastorius, Alain Caron)! My go-to touring setup is a DB751 Aguilar Amp paired with a DB 8×10 Cab. It has a killer tone with so much power. My basses are Paul Reed Smith (PRS) Private Stock Gary Grainger basses.

Tell us about your new song, “Won’t Come Back.” What was the inspiration behind the song?
“Won’t Come Back” was inspired by a want to hear more fretless bass in contemporary music, so I wrote a “broken” love song. It was released in November 2021 on all platforms, and we just released the remix last month. The song is co-produced and co-written by Joey “Papa J Sez” Sommerville. We shot the video with Andrew Rose, and the wardrobe styling was done by the ever-talented Roni Burks and shot in Los Angeles, Calif.

You’ve already accomplished so much on your journey, but what do you hope to achieve in the next five years?
Continued happiness and health!

What advice would you give young women looking to ‘make it in the music industry?
Do it because you love it, and it will love you back!

How did the opportunity to work with Beyoncé and Erykah Badu come?
I have worked with Beyoncé on a few different occasions. With Sheila E., I did the promo shows with her for the Austin Powers movie Goldmember, and I played the GRAMMY performance with her, Prince, and the New Power Generation. I had the opportunity to work/jam with Erykah with Prince at our New Power Generation’s afterparties throughout the U.S. and Dallas, as he has always been a vast Erykah fan (like myself).

How have your jazz studies at McGill University helped you as a musician working playing massive shows for significant artists?
All my studies and practice in music have helped me develop, especially in situations playing with other musicians/ensembles.

~ By Guitar Gabby, Jennale Adams & Aliah Guerra