Thomas «Bodo» Smuszynski: «Rock´n Roll business is quite tough»

Thomas Smuszynski is one of those workhorses who doesn’t want to make the headlines but to play music and enjoy it. And yet «Bodo» has a lot to share about his musical journey with U.D.O. and Running Wild (not to forget his first profeccional band Darxon).

 

Thomas, please tell me about your family. Your last name sounds Polish. Is it correct? And what about your musical background: at what age you started play bass guitar and why did you pick this particular instrument?

Yes, my name is polish, so I somehow have polish roots (but even my grandfather was already German). Many Polish people moved to the Ruhrgebiet (German industrial area with coal mines and steel industry) in the 19th century to work in the coal mines, so did my family. I started to play Bass quite late, I was already 17.  At that time a friend of mine already had an electric Bass and a big amplifier and he asked me if I wanted to try. I was immediately addicted because I was so impressed by the mighty sound and I still love a mighty Bass-Sound on stage even today.

Kathy Hawk. «Bodo» is on the right

How did you get nickname “Bodo” and what does it mean? By the way, did you get this nickname during your time with Kathy Hawk? What are your best memories about this band?

You know about my first band Kathy Hawk, I am impressed! Yes, the nickname “Bodo” was given to me during that time (around 1980) but not directly related to the Band Kathy Hawk. I changed school at that time and was directly involved in a theatre performance where I played a guy named “Bodo”. After that everyone called me Bodo and this is still my Nickname toady. My memories regarding my first Band Kathy Hawk, mmhhhhh… Everything was so exiting, I mean it was the first Band, we spent every day in the rehearsal room we wrote our first songs, we made recording for Demo tapes, we played in all the youth centers in our region, we – by ourselves – stuck our posters at night to promote our next concert and we always had a lot of fun. This was the beginning of everything and I am so grateful that I met the guys (and the female singer) at my new school back than! One of the guys is still a very good friend of mine.

How did you get that job in Darxon? Do you know reasons why all other musicians left Darxon after the first album and the singer Masimo De Matteis was forced to start from scratch and asked you and others to join the band?

With my first Band Kathy Hawk we often needed to rent some PA equipment for our gigs, but we couldn´t pay for it, so we worked for the PA company and during one of these jobs I met Massimo De Matteis who was looking for a new Bass Player at that time. Darxon Mark 1 split, because the Drummer (Dominik Hülshorst) joined the Band Bonfire, the Bass player (Peter Schmidt) decided to put his complete engagement to his own company (cabinet makers workshop) and the first guitar player did not fit to the new and young Darxon Mark 2, so he was finally replaced by Wolla Böhm.

Do you stay in touch with Masimo De Matteis? What is he doing these days? By the way, is it his real name or was it stage name?   

Yes, I was seldom but regularly in touch with Massimo De Matteis, but I have to say we did not talked to each other during the last 3 years. Massimo became a lawyer later and he is living in the far eastern part of Germany. It is his real name, he has Italian roots.

During the time of Darxon

How popular were Darxon? Did you have a chance to play outside Germany? What lessons you learned being in Darxon?

Even we had fans from all around the world we mainly played in Germany, I think we had each one gig in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. In Germany Darxon has been quite successful. I learned that the Rock´n Roll business is quite tough because even our “No Thrills” Tour in 1987 went quite good it ended up in a financial disaster. The Band had debts after that and that was the reason why Darxon dissipated after that tour.

Would you say that Darxon was your stepping-stone to bigger bands? How did you get to know Udo Dirkschneider? Were you nervous when you came to an audition for his band?

Yes, definitively Darxon was my step stone. Udo Dirkschneider was looking for a new Bass Player and he visited one of the last Darxon concerts in Cologne. After that I got a call…the rest is history.

Tell me please about recording sessions of the “Mean Machine” album. Did you have a chance to contribute any ideas to the songs? How was it to work with Mark Dodson? How much different was it to  work with foreign and acclaimed producer?

No, I did not contribute anything to the mean machine album. Honestly I do not remember too much about Mark Dodson, I had to practice a lot and what I remember is that Peter Baltes (the Accept Bass player and still my hero) teaches me a lot with “Mean Machine”.

After “Mean Machine” was recorded the band went on tour with Ozzy Osbourne. I guess that was very cool for a young musician to be a part of this tour. What are your best memories? Did that tour help U.D.O. to gain new fans and in what countries did you play with Ozzy? Were Ozzy and his band and crew friendly to you and others in U.D.O.?

You are right, this was absolutely fantastic for me to be part of that tour. You know we played all the big arenas all over Europe. We played in front of 8.000 – 12.000 people every gig of that tour. Too much memories to mention here. “Everything” was just like “being a Rock Star”…and I mean “Everything”! Yes, I guess this tour was helpful for U.D.O to gain more fans, as we played nearly every European country on that tour. Ozzy and Band have been very friendly on a professional level. Unfortunately I did not play with Ozzy, but I was asked by the Backliner of Geezer Butler to do the Soundcheck with Geezers Gear every evening (because Ozzy and Band just came for the show). What I have is a Foto with Ozzy backstage of the legendary Hammersmith Odeon. I am still very proud that I met him.

U.D.O.: «Faceless World» era

On the next album “Faceless World” Udo decided to join forces with his ex-Accept mate Stefan Kaufmann. Is it true that at first you and Matthias Dieth weren’t happy with this choice? By the way, with what producer you would like to work in the studio?

I don´t know about Mathias, I had no opinion about Stefan Kaufmann at that time and honestly I was not even asked about my opinion. I was not involved in any Band decision at that time. Even today I meet Stefan Kaufmann from time to time (on Concerts) and he is always very kind!

“Faceless World” is my personal favorite from the whole U.D.O.’s discography – it has perfect combination of catchy songs and powerful and clean production. What is your opinion about this album? Were you satisfied with a little more commercial direction of the music and the final result as a whole?

Yes, I was satisfied with the result and I like this album very much because of the catchy songs. Mathias even plays some fantastic solos.

Your last album with U.D.O. was “Timebomb” which is the heaviest one recorded with you, Stefan and Matthias. How do you view this album today? And what are your best memories about Japanese tour that followed after “Timebomb”?

It was an interesting album as well, which was influenced by Judas Priest’s “Painkiller” album. For me the recordings have been very special, because when we started with the pre-production I broke my elbow when trying to jump over a barrier. So my arm was injected for a while. The guys recorded the album not following the usual sequence “drums, bass, guitars, vocals”; Bass was recorded at the end and it was really hard work and training for me to catch up after the elbow was ok again. Unfortunately there was no Japan tour, it was cancelled due to whatever reasons.

After this CD Udo decided to put the band on the ice and joined Accept. Did you see that coming during record sessions? How did you take this situation? Did you feel any kind of regret that the band didn’t realize its full potential? I guess after “Timebomb” you could record something equal to “Objection Overruled”. 

It was quite surprising for me. Udo´s decision was successively revealed during the last concerts of the tour (last gig was Giants of Rock in Finland 1992). Of cause I was very disappointed, shocked and unemployed after that. But it lasted only a few weeks until Stefan Schwarzmann and me get the offer to be the new rhythm section of Running Wild.

In one of interviews you said that you were disillusioned by the whole experience with U.D.O. and wanted to quit music business to study in a university. What things made you so skeptical? Why did you change your mind eventually and joined Running Wild? What made their offer acceptable for you?

That’s correct, as said before I was very disappointed and as it was (and is) not easy to find a band which pays you on a regular basis so that you can pay your live, so I wanted to continue my studies at the university. What made me change my mind was that fact that with Running Wild I could join a famous band again where I could continue my music work under professional conditions; In addition I was even paid better than ever before.

I guess that working on your first album with any band is a very special thing. So what are your best memories about recording of “Pile Of Skulls”? I heard that in was physically tough as there was very hot in the studio. Do you remember something remarkable from those sessions?

Yes it was summer and quite hot in the studio, but this is not my main memory. What I will never forget is that there have been millions of flies as the studio was on the countryside. Furthermore I remember that the producer (Jan Nemec) has a different working style. A bass track was ok for Jan when it “rocks and grooves together with the drums” even there might have been some inaccuracies. This style gave me a very “free” feeling. As result I think “Pile of skulls” sounds quite rough and wild.

Do you remember what happened to the single “Sinister Eyes”? The band was ready to unleash it, the cover was made but nothing followed. Why was that?

Honestly, I don´t remember, wasn´t there a single at all? Sorry I don´t remember.

The best Running Wild’s line-up according to «Bodo»

In one on interviews you said that the line-up with you, Thilo and Jorg was the best in Running Wild’s history. I think the same. But what reasons let you say like this? I mean was it better for you to be in the band with Thilo and Jorg on personal level or were they better musicians than Axel Morgan and Stefan Schwarzmann?

It´s not that one guy was a better musician than the other. I would never say something like this. I think the main reason is, that the line up with Jörg, Thilo and me was existing longer than every other line up, so the band was simply well rehearsed after the years. Everyone knows what and how the other guy is playing which made the band sound very tight and compact.

What album you recorded with Running Wild is your favorite? I mean here favorite not only in musical aspects but in terms of band’s chemistry, atmosphere in the studio and everything that surrounds songwriting and recording process.

My favorite album is “Black Hand Inn” because Charly Bauerfeind as producer used brand new digital equipment which makes the band sound very exact and brilliant. I cannot say much about band’s chemistry, atmosphere in the studio because we have never been in the studio all together, when Jörg was nearly ready I joined, after Jörg finished to record his parts I was alone with Rolf and when I was finished Thilo came to the studio. If you have a look to the composers, you will recognize it’s only Rolf, so there was no songwriting process.

Did you try to understand lyrical concepts of the albums? Is it important for you to share same opinion with someone who writes lyrics in a band?

Yes, I understand the lyrical content but was not that important to me. But basically we all could agree with the critics on the society, Nazis and evil in the world.

Tell me please about music business of the 90’s. Many people consider this decade as a kind of dark era for heavy metal. Was it the case with Running Wild? Was it possible to live off Running Wild for you or were you forced to have a day job or something like that?

Basically I was regularly paid good on a monthly basis in the 90´s, but in the late 90´s this changed and I was only paid for the recordings and the tour, which means normally you have to take a day job. I could survive by some savings, but I decided to finish my studies at the university, because for me it was never an option to have a bad paid job as an unskilled worker just to make it possible to survive and wait for the next tour with a professional band.

Obvious and expected question: what can you say about Udo and Rolf as bosses? Who was more demanding so to say?

Udo was clearly more demanding, but I really had a good relationship with both of them. I still visit U.D.O on tour when I have time today.

Tell me please about the album “Victory”. Would you say that you were still a real band by that time? And who was Angelo Sasso? Many people still think that it’s a fake. I guess you can’t reveal the truth but give me a hint at least…

I am free person so basically I could say everything, I just don´t want to disappoint someone…Angelo is a synonym for a person who made really exact drumming. Feeling in the Studio was not much different than before, I just missed to meet Jörg at least for some days.

Why did you and Thilo quit Running Wild? Did you feel like you achieved everything you could with this band?

It’s simple as that, I was fired because Rolf trusted to the wrong people (and I think Rolf did get aware of that 1 or 2 years later). Thilo quit after I was fired. Yes, I feel I achieved everything, the great years of Running Wild were already over at that time.

I guess after Running Wild you got some offers from other bands. Is it correct? Why did you decide to step aside from show business so to say?

Yes, there have been some offers, but none of these bands was able to pay in a way that you can live from it. As said before, doing bad jobs just to play in a “professional” band was no option for me, so I made my university degree as an engineer. Today I still play in the cover band Bourbon Street (www.bourbon-street-online.de ) with very good and known (ex) professionals, e.g. Peter Szigeti (ex-Warlock, ex-U.D.O.), Wolla Böhm (ex-Draxon, ex-U.D.O.), Henning Wanner (White Lion, Circle to Circle), Stefan Mageney (Crystal Ball). We really rock and it is a lot of fun!

Rocking with Bourbon Street

Tell me please about Bourbon Street. Who came up with the idea to form this band? Was it original idea to make it a kind of All Stars band of German heavy metal? Is it enough for you to play covers once in a while? By the way, now Wolfgang “Wolla” Bohm plays with you in this band but as far as I understand now he plays drums. When did he switch from guitar to drums?

Stefan Mageney, the singer of Bourbon Street contacted me in… I guess it was ´98… and asked me if I want to join the cover band Bourbon Street. I was really thinking about if I want to play in a cover band because at that time I was still in Running Wild. My girlfriend (my wife today) encouraged me to play with Bourbon Street because I always complained that I make to less music / concerts because at that time Running wild was touring only for 2 week once in 2 years or so. I agreed to that Idea and joined Bourbon Street. Stefan is now one of my very best friend. Another friend, Herbert Dreger (early drummer of Holy Moses, died in 2012) joined Bourbon Street as well. When it appeared that Herbert had health problems I of caused asked my very best friend Wolla Böhm who was playing Drums at that time (must be 2006 or so). No, it was not a master plan to have a kind of “All Stars of German heavy metal”, it just happened… e.g. when Tom Bohn the earlier Guitar Player of Bourbon Street died in 2010 we asked Peter Szigeti to join. I know Peter since the early 80’s and he is as well a frined of Wolla and me. By the way Tom Bohn was kind of a Star as well. He was a founding member of Axe Victims (later renamed in Universe where Wolla and Ingo Plass from Darxon played in the early 90s, Universe supported Running Wild on the “Pile of Skulls” tour. Before Tom Bohn got the Guitar Player in Bourbon Street the first guitar player was named Frank Fricke (who was tour guitarist on U.D.O.’s “Timebomb” Tour). It not only about playing covers from time to time, its about playing great songs with excellent musicians which in addition are my best friends!  What else could I expect more ?  The situation is superb, we have a lot of fun when we doing concerts, I love it!

How was it to join Udo, Andy and Matthias on stage at “Wacken Open Air” in 2012? Did you feel any kind of nostalgia? Did you talk with Udo about possible re-union or special appearance in studio? And the same question about Running Wild – do you want to work with Rolf once again?

Having the guest appearance with U.D.O in Wacken was outstanding, one of the greatest moments of my live to play in front of 80.000 metal heads. It has been a big present from Udo to me (at least this is what I am thinking about it). We did not talk about any reunion or further studio engagement, it was just the special Wacken Show (Udo turned 60 in 2012 and in addition the band U.D.O. celebrated 25th anniversary). I would of cause play some songs with Running wild on a festival, I maybe even record a song with RW again, but I won´t think about more.

Do you know anything about your Russian fans (there are many!)? Feel free to share anything including links to websites to round up this interview!

Actually I don´t know to much about Russian fans. When I was active with U.D.O. and Running Wild there was never a discussion to play in Russia, which I think is a pity because I have heard that the Russia Fans are so enthusiastic. So I definitively missed something! So if some Russian Fan Clubs of Concert agencies want to book a German “All Star Hard Rock cover band” they might visit our website. Contact Info can be found there.

The Band is:

Stefan Mageney, Vocals  (Crystal Ball)

Thomas “Bodo” Smuszynski, Bass (ex-U.D.O., ex-Running Wild, ex-Darxon)

Peter Szigeti, Guitar (ex-Warlock, ex-Velvet Viper, ex-Coracko)

Wolfgang “Wolla” Böhm, Drums (ex-Darxon, ex-U.D.O., ex-Universe)

Henning Wanner, Keyboards (White Lion, Circle II Circle)

You can even find us on Youtube.

Thanks for your interest Konstantin! Keep on rocking.