Fingerstyle guitar master Richard Smith demonstrates and discusses contemporary fingerstyle techniques.
Richard Smith was born in Beckenham, Kent, England in 1971. One day, at the age of five, he was watching his father fingerpick “Down South Blues” (an Atkins-Travis recording) on his guitar. The boy begged his dad to show him how to play it, and finally he did. Despite the fact that Smith is left-handed and his dad’s right-handed guitar was not designed for tiny hands, by the end of that day, he learned and played both the chords and the melody. Within no time, the toddler outstripped his dad’s six-string prowess and it was clear to all who saw or heard him play that he was one of those rare phenomena—a child prodigy. Concentrating initially on the music his father loved—the country picking of Chet Atkins and Merle Travis—young Smith digested everything he heard, learning even the most complicated of these tunes with ease, and confounded everyone with his dexterity. It seemed that not only did the boy possess amazing physical skill, but a photographic musical memory, as well. Often, a single hearing was all it took to get a piece under his fingers. Smith first met his hero, the “Godfather” of finger style guitar, Chet Atkins, when he was only eleven and was invited by Atkins to play with him on stage at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London in front of an audience of about a thousand. He played Atkins’s arrangement of “Whispering,” and Atkins played along with him. Then the audience went mad and Atkins asked him to play another one. Before Smith could decide what to play, someone shouted “Little Rock Getaway,” and Smith played Atkins’s arrangement of it while Atkins, not playing this time, watched him in amazement playing to a stunned and appreciative audience. By the time he reached his early twenties, both Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed began to refer to Richard Smith as their “hero”—and still do. There seems to be no limit to Smith’s ability to quickly master whatever guitar style captures his fancy. The complex styles of many guitar greats including Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, and Lenny Breau have proved to be no impediment to his voracious musical appetite. Apart from his guitar virtuosity, he is also an accomplished banjo and violin player. Smith has toured around the world, surprising audiences everywhere with his genius, showcasing a repertoire spanning an incredible range of musical styles from country, bluegrass, mainstream jazz, modern pop, and rock, to classical guitar. Smith also plays several of John Phillip Souza’s marches and, incredibly, comes close to sounding like an entire marching band—drums and all.