Joe Smith’s Recorded Interviews with Music Icons Featured on Library of Congress Website

Joe Smith’s Recorded Interviews with Music Icons Featured on Library of Congress Website

In 1988, John Lennon's wife Yoko Ono gave a candid interview to record-label president Joe Smith about the Beatles' split:  "For John, it was a divorce.  I think he was feeling very good about it, as if a big weight was off him." Ono was among more than 200 celebrated performers, producers and industry leaders whose words Smith captured on audiotape more than 25 years ago in an effort to document the oral history of popular music. 

In June 2012, Smith donated the collection of recordings to the Library of Congress-a tremendous assembly of primary-source oral histories covering perhaps the most important 50 years of popular music, nationally and internationally. On Wednesday, Nov. 28, the Library will make a series of these revealing, unedited recordings available for listening free to the public on its website The first group of recordings posted on the site will consist of 25 interviews.  These include interviews with Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Ray Charles, B. B. King, Bo Diddley and Linda Rondstadt. More recordings in the Smith collection will be added to the site over time. 

Also coming soon is Smith's own reflective interview, in which he shares rare and intimate details about his decades-long career.  He candidly talks about the famous people in his life, including a titillating accusation against him and his business partner, Frank Sinatra.

All types of popular music are represented in the collection-from rock 'n' roll, jazz, rhythm & blues and pop to big-band, heavy metal, folk and country-western. The list of noted artists and executives is a veritable who's who in the music industry.  Among them are Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, Little Richard, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Elton John, Paul Simon, David Bowie, Billy Joel, Sting, Tony Bennett, Joan Baez, James Taylor, Dick Clark, Tina Turner, Tom Jones, B. B. King, Quincy Jones, David Geffen, Mickey Hart, Harry Belafonte and many others.

Smith's 40-year career in the industry gave him unique entrée and for about a two-year period, he interviewed the biggest names in music.  In 1988, he published excerpts from his interviews in the groundbreaking book "Off the Record" (Warner Books).

"One of the great things about the interviews is how relaxed many of them are," said Matt Barton, the Library's recorded sound curator.  "They're not on camera and they're talking to someone who's very much a colleague and a peer, if not a musical artist.  The tone is very different and the camera isn't on them."

Visitors to the Library's website will get a rare glimpse of music's biggest stars in unguarded moments.  Smith records them joking, eating, drinking and candidly discussing their lives, careers and contemporaries.  While chain-smoking, Ono talks about the breakup of The Beatles; Mick Jagger consumes toast and tea while discussing the Stones' outlaw reputation; Paul McCartney also speaks frankly about The Beatles' walk on the wild side; and Tony Bennett talks about the legacy of two music greats over dinner. 

B. B. King on the blues:
"I feel it's dying as we've known it. But there will continuously be blues as long as there are people on the planet, because people gonna continuously have problems."