Putter Smith

Putter Smith discovered the evil overarching effects Hollywood had on him shortly after his 1971 James Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever. “I was floating on this little rubber boat just 50 yards from Huntington Beach, when this little kid, who looks about 8 or 9, comes by on a tire,” said the 66-year old jazz bassist, who uses “motherfucker”, “you dig” and has the look of a bookish Burlesque Burl Ives. He comes along on a rubber tire, and shouts, “Hey, that’s the guy from Diamonds Are Forever!” “He comes by on a rubber tire and shouts, ‘Hey, you’re the guy from Diamonds Are Forever!’ And I replied, ‘No, that wasn’t me.’ He then said, “So who the hell are you then ?!'”?” Smith was a local legend long before his part in Bond 7 as Mr. Kidd, a vaguely homosexual character. He played the perfume-spritzing Mr. Wint in Bruce Glover’s seventh Bond movie. These men were a slew of lethal hit men who used scorpions to kill their victims and made polite asides. They nearly put Sean Connery to death in a crematorium. Smith, who was bald with a shaggy reddish mane and sideburns, drooping moustache and small wire-framed eyes, looked more like an insecure CPA than an Irish boy who rose from the L.A. “burb of Bell” to make his debut at the Compton Community Center at 13 (pay $7). He went on to be a part of the last great jazz era, including Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and Thelonius Monk. Smith was actually playing at Shelley’s Manhole, Hollywood, with Monk on piano and Paul Jeffries on tenor Sax. Ndugu Chancellor was on the drums, as Guy Hamilton, a 47-year-old director, entered. Hamilton was casting Bond’s next film. Smith recalls that Hamilton was looking at Smith from the audience, “sort of looking at” him in a way that I would recognize. “He approached me and asked where I could find the bathroom, but he didn’t introduce himself.” The fame that quickly followed was quickly a four-letter term. “Wow, I’m a star of a movie!” You are recognized by everyone, but that’s the bad part. It was horrible, it was absolutely terrible. It was horrible, absolutely terrible. I was once very shy. Smith claims that when someone is recognized for something small or accidental in their life, he tells the wife “It’s like Diamonds Are Forever.” Putter was able to exact his revenge. When the UCLA Oral History Project searched for L.A.’s greatest jazz musicians in 2004, Alex Cline, an interviewer, knew Smith was the man to watch. Cline said that Smith “was one of those musicians who had not only played with the big names, but also with people no one will ever talk about.” Great regional players like Kent Glenn, Jack Coan and Herman Riley were not given their dues. Smith was a meticulous record-keeper and kept all his datebooks back to 1958. His life and work were influenced greatly by his older brother Carson, and Eric Von Essen. Both of these musicians, who were both brutal bassists with powerful reps among musicians of their time, and both of whom died from various demons and abuses, 30 years apart. “These guys were men who had more fun than you or I ever will have in our entire lives. They played their asses off every single day, just burning, man. burning, and having more joy than we’ll ever have in our entire lives.” Smith smiles with a gap-toothed, devilish grin before revealing a lesson he has learned the hard way: “It seems that fate has as much to play in fame than anything.” Smith is still one the most active jazz musicians in the city. He practices religiously for 40 hours per week, and also gives and takes bass lessons (currently, with David Moore, the L.A. Philharmonic). Smith estimates that he plays at least five times per week as a sideman with his quartet Left Coast, or with VR, his wife of 42 year. He compares the experience of being a jazz player in Southern California to watching a TV documentary about the North American wolverine. “A working musician in L.A. travels from Laguna Beach to Palmdale and Palm Springs. According to them, the territory of the wolverine is a 50-mile radius. “That was what I heard. That’s my territory!” From AllAboutJazz

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