Verdell Smith is a multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter currently living and performing in San Diego, California. He is the front man for his band Soul Ablaze in addition to performing with many other bands and solo artists in San Diego. It is difficult to pin down what genre of music he creates as he pulls influences from many different musical artists and styles.
Verdell grew up in rural Maryland across the road from the tobacco farms, surrounded by open fields with roads covered in tobacco at harvest time. While rural, Washington, D.C. and Annapolis could be reached with a short 20 minute drive. Some of the residents had to move away as the tobacco industry crashed and many of the farmers lost their income. Being so close to the city, Verdell and his friends were able to enjoy old style country and blues, early hip hop and gogo music being played on the radio.
At home his parents were strict religionists so there was no radio or television. The only music allowed was gospel music when they were home. When his parents were away, he and his brothers would bring out the 45s and play the music of the time. They played early soul from Hall and Oats, Cameo, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Black Sabbath, and Grand Funk Railroad. The influences were many and one day when he was about 14 he spotted his brother’s guitar sitting in the corner and decided to stop playing air guitar, actually learn how to play a real guitar, and he hasn’t put it down since.
His early musical influences at that time were Marvin Gaye, Prince, Sade, Tina Marie, Barry White and Miles Davis. Not because of the music itself, but because they were strong enough artists to change the way music was seen and heard and to see everyone gravitate to them and change with them. Once he got a little older, he sang opera, was hooked on movie scores and would go to the library and take out all the CDs they would let him check out to hear as much music as possible.
Verdell was always interested in history and became a voracious reader. He found that so many historical figures changed the world and he realized he could be that person of change and do anything he wanted through his music.
After touring while in the military supporting the USO all over the world he started his band in San Diego playing soul, funk, and folk fusion. Over time, as musicians came in and out of the band, the message of his music was, and still is, love and being as pure to the music and lyrics as possible. He feels that his job, is to put the fans and audience into that moment of the performance. The music is a flow that comes out from the musicians, into the crowd and comes back to the musicians.
He seeks out other musicians who embrace that train of thought and strive for that end result. He gives them the freedom to come and go. He does not want to force musicians to stay, because then the sound will be stamped with a style and he resists the labeling that is so common in the music industry. Musicians leaving can be painful, but he respects their independence and contributions.
His music is empowered by the audience. It’s not about the screaming and yelling but rather it is those special moments when the musicians are in the zone. They know they are in the zone and are doing something special, they can turn to each other and smile the acknowledgement of what is happening and see the enjoyment of the moment coming back from the audience. It is the acceptance of the conversation going back and forth.
His goal is to further that communication between the band and the audience. He wants them to experience that conversation and the soul that lives in the music that speaks to everyone. When that doesn’t happen, then the band is not doing their job. He believes that while powerful, his music is also positive. He doesn’t focus on negative messages.
Verdell also has a love of being on the road and touring and is slowly working toward the time when he can get back out there and bring his music to others. While there is a financial hill to climb in order to fund the touring, Verdell feels it is his destiny to tour with his music for as long as he can.
Currently, he has one CD already released and is now working on a second one to be released in the near future. He enjoys listening to music on the various electronic platforms and respects the newer technologies and electronics in today’s music, yet he has no intention of inserting that technology into his own music in a significant way. He is always striving for the purest sound of the guitar and the other instruments, but he may allow a bit of electronics around the edges from time to time.
You can catch the next two shows for Soul Ablaze at the Manhattan Bar in Chula Vista on November 30th and the Rabbit Hole in North Park on December 1st.