It was lots of water and an ill wind named Katrina that brought talented musicians Rick and Trish Smith back to Las Vegas. Displaced by nature's fury, the Smith's were forced to leave Mississippi where they had been part of the entertainment lineup at Biloxi's Imperial Palace. After losing their home and most of their worldly possessions, the decision of where to set up housekeeping next came fairly easily.
It seemed like a typical Hot August Night at Mr. E's lounge located on the 32nd floor of the Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino. There were people to be entertained and Rick and Trish were doing just that with their retro '80s variety show. Little did they realize that this would be how their three years of performing at the property would end. Although folks in that part of the country were aware of the impending storm, no one could have imagined the devastation Hurricane Katrina would wreak on the Gulf Port community... and their lives.
It would be eight days before the Smiths could get out of Biloxi. "We lost pretty much everything and whatever was salvageable we donated to other people who had lost more," Rick said. "We were in shock. We got out with just a little more than the clothes on our backs and we lost most of our equipment in the storm." After leaving the Gulf Coast, the Smiths flew to Atlanta to pick up their daughter, 10-year-old Sara, who was able to evacuate before the storm hit. Thanks to the generosity of a friend who provided airline tickets, the family flew to Los Angeles. After two weeks in Southern California, the family headed to Las Vegas.
In the late 1980s, Rick Smith, then known as Rick Wells, was the lead singer of the San Diego-based band, My Generation. With fellow musicians John Argent and Sam Boyd, My Generation was brought to Las Vegas by Donny Lee Moore and Dennis Levinson, where they did their first local engagement at the Hotel Continental (now Terrible‘s at Flamingo and Paradise). During the years the group performed in Southern Nevada, they also entertained crowds at the Barbary Coast, Mint, Silver Slipper, Whiskey Pete's in Primm (then known as Stateline) and at the Riverside in Laughlin. Rick and Trish hooked up, both professionally and personally, after she auditioned for and won a spot singing with My Generation. The show grew in size and scope and eventually became known as The Sounds of Freedom.
Although the Smiths were born and raised near the water (Rick in Baltimore, Maryland, and Trish Michaels in Biloxi), and their travels have taken them from Key West, Florida, to Canada and the Caribbean, not too surprisingly they now choose to work and make their home inland.
Despite losing material things, what the Smiths didn't lose was their spirit, determination and their love of performing. After entertaining people all over North America for the past 18 years, making music is a hard habit to break. They have toured across the country from one coast to another, working on cruise ships, in hotels and playing dozens of concerts. Now they have come full circle and will once again call this city home. "Las Vegas is one town where a musician or entertainer is treated with respect," says Rick. "We came through the eye of the storm and we are passionate and sincere about the business. This town was founded on entertainment." "We are glad to be back in Las Vegas," adds Trish.
"Everyone has been great to us," Rick said. "From Red Cross to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to the Imperial Palace, it makes us really happy to get a hand up. PRG Audio was kind enough to loan us equipment so we can continue to play."
Now calling themselves SongSmith, these days the duo offers a wide variety of music from jazz and disco to the 1970s and 1980s. In his own style, Rick performs songs by U2's Bono, Jimmy Buffett, Sting, Billy Idol, Ray Charles, Boz Scaggs, KC and The Sunshine Band, Men at Work and Bad Company, while Trish pays tribute to a number of female artists, including Carole King, Celine Dion, Debbie Harry (Blondie), Gladys Knight, Annie Lennox, Donna Summer, Judy Garland, Linda Ronstadt, Dusty Springfield and Billie Holiday. Together the Smiths do songs made famous by Human League, Bob Marley, the Stylistics and more. The duos version of Unchained Melody is a show highlight. "We love the innovative theatrical music that period of time brought to music; my favorite is David Bowie," Rick said. Trish added, "We also love anything from Andrew Lloyd Webber to Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders."
For a variety of music, performed by two talented and lucky musicians, check out SongSmith during their stay at the Imperial Palace.
Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino
Sunday through Wednesday, 4-8 pm
Through November 23