MM: What do you think was the turning point where you got in? And who was it with?
MS: Well‚ more or less when I met George Benson in the mid-1960's -- he's the one that hooked me up with McDuff. From playing with Jack McDuff I had the opportunity to meet a lot of these other musicians. So, that was kind of the turning point for me -- joining Jack McDuff's band. I had the chance to see everybody‚ you know? We were on shows with Cannonball Adderley‚ Miles Davis‚ Count Basie - I mean we were on shows with everybody. I was in that band for two years so I ran across everybody. And since Jack McDuff was so popular in that era it just made it really easy for me. But recording-wise‚ it was Lou Donaldson. The most popular records I made were with him.
MM: Yeah‚ Lou Donaldson. That's the classic stuff for sure.
MS: Yeah‚ Lou had heard me with McDuff -- that's how he knew about me. So that's how I got hooked up. But Lou also knew my brother as well.
MM: (Laughter) Who you know and right-time-right-place kind of thing?
MS: Yeah‚ but...
MM: Right‚ right‚ you still have to have your chops.
MS: You still have to be a musician and you have to practice a lot. I think those guys put more pressure on me because they knew my brother. In their mind‚ it gave them a right to put even more pressure on me. They knew my brother‚ so here I was a guy trying to get in the door fast‚ so they were like‚ you know‚ let's put even more pressure on him (laughter).
MM: So in those days‚ what was practicing like?
MS: I only stopped for sleep (laughs). I was practicing everyday for 8-10 hours‚ and then sometimes Dr. Lonnie Smith would join me and we would practice all day. Charles Earland too -- I'd practice with him all day. We'd always find someway to practice. Everyday. I mean if they were in town or we saw each other on the road -- the older musicians would be doing something else and having a good time‚ but us younger musicians would be somewhere trying to practice. Every once in a while we'd go off and have some fun‚ but that didn't mean anything; we'd need to find someway to practice.
MM: You mentioned Dr. Lonnie Smith -- you played with him quite a bit over the years...
MS: Yeah‚ he was working with George (Benson) when I met him and we became... in fact we were really close friends. We're still really close friends. I actually just saw him a few weeks ago. His first band after leaving George Benson‚ I was in it. In fact‚ I charted the music for his first two Blue Note albums‚ Think! and Turning Point‚ which had Lee Morgan and Bennie Maupin on them. Yeah‚ I penned the charts for those albums.
MM: Wow‚ no kidding.
MS: Yeah‚ that was good experience (laughs).
MM: Some of those organ players you played with are incredible -- I mean‚ McDuff‚ and I've heard you on some of Reuben Wilson's recordings.
MS: Yeah‚ I made two or three records with him. He was using Grant Green‚ but...
MM: Grant Green‚ he's not too shabby (laughs).
MS: Well, that was one of my other teachers‚ Grant Green. I met Grant Green through George Benson; he introduced me to Grant and we became friends. It was like a father-son relationship with Grant‚ you know? I was highly influenced by his playing and that's why George introduced me to him. He knew that Grant Green was my so-called hero at that time.
MM: Yeah‚ he's a gift; you can just hear it in his playing.
MS: Yeah‚ definitely. My main influences are between George‚ Grant‚ and Kenny Burrell... and Howard Roberts too.
MM: Well‚ going back earlier‚ what about Wes Montgomery?
MS: Well‚ because I'm from Texas -- he wasn't that popular down there‚ so I wasn't really influenced by him. I know he's a great player -- if not the greatest‚ one of the greatest anyway. But growing up I never heard his music down there. He wasn't popular down there‚ you know? The Blue Note record label dominated down there. There was so much music to listen to with the Blue Note records that... well‚ consequently I had Grant Green and Kenny Burrell (laughter). Wes Montgomery was out on the West Coast and those guys in Texas didn't have much respect for the musicians on the West Coast.
MM: Really?
MS: Yeah‚ I mean that was just when I was young. So I was really never influenced by Wes until much‚ much later. It wasn't until I came up here that I was reintroduced to Wes Montgomery's music and I was able to realize his greatness. By that time I think my influences ran out; I wasn't really into being influenced by different musicians‚ I was trying to develop my own style.