The Life and Times of Smokin' Kenny Smith - Part 1

The Musicians Guide to Riding the Cambodian Roller Coaster, or How  to Musically Prostitute Yourself for Fun and Adventure!

By Smoking Kenny
You have to have a
good day in order to appreciate the bad days. I tell myself this when
I feel secure in the knowledge that my room is paid up for at least
the next 6 days and I have a gig on Friday – which means money coming
in later on Friday night. I run through my pockets of last night’s
pants, looking in my wallet with hopeful intent and I manage to
assemble a total of just under $4.30 in Cambodian Riel.
Wait though! This is
Wednesday morning and I don’t consider food an extravagance – so I
better make a plan quick. Three words that I dislike are mathematics,
budget and reality. I could add rice and eggs to that list because
the next question I ask myself is how much rice and eggs can I stand
for the next three days? Sure I could call a friend and ask for a
small loan, but I’ll take the wait and see what approaches.
How about one of
these weeks; fleeting thoughts of suicide on Monday, warming up to an
extreme state of depression by the end of the week. Then by a
miraculous twist of fate, being woken up by a beautiful woman on Saturday morning and asking her to pinch me to reassure me
that I’m not still dreaming. After being pinched for a while we
head into the shower. With the endorphins still racing through my
brain, I think to myself “Life is good!”.
Sounds a little
extreme, BS? But this is totally true. These are rare but true
occasions. If you were to put a label on this type of behavior some
might call it manic, bipolar etc. – I call it survival and I deal
with it. If you see any person who goes through life without harming
another person emotionally, physically or financially then that would
be a sane person in my view.
You may think that I
came to Cambodia with no plan. You may think that I just let life
take me where it may. In my defense, I feel life is predetermined. My
mother’s father (Grandpa Ed) was a piano player in the thirties
with the great depression and all that jazz. He would always have a
gig for anyone who came across a dollar and would run to the bar to
forget just how hard life can be. I feel I inherited that from him.
But wait, I did have
a Cambodian plan! Back in the States I dabbled in the currency
trading market. I thought the small income from that would sustain a
meager living somewhere in south East Asia. I gave up on America and
moved to Thailand in 2006. I was on a visa run when I discovered
Sihanoukville. Having spent 20 years living in Florida, I felt I
needed a beach nearby.
I lost my ass in the
market in 2008. Leaving me living off a small bank account and credit
cards. I met my future walking, or should I say staggering, along the
beach front. It was about 3:00AM when I was wandering past a grass
hut bar, with soft music and the familiar smell of cannabis. There
were 9 or 10 patrons busy in quiet conversation, when I noticed an
old, rusty strung guitar hanging on the wall. I politely asked if
anyone would mind me playing the guitar and sang a song. I was told
that if I could tune it I could play it. So I struggled with this
ornament on the wall, passing itself off as an instrument. I’m sure
people were doubting my competence. Finally in a moment of complete
confidence I broke into “What would you do if I sang out of
tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?
To my complete
amazement, before the song had ended, people were singing along.
After 2 or 3 more songs (which, at the time, were all the songs I
could remember) I was feeling musically as rusty as the old guitar.
Someone asked “Dude, where are you playing, I’ll come and see
”. I confessed that I had been a musician but taking it up
again hadn’t really crossed my mind.
Then a guy called
Peter introduced himself to me and asked if we could take a short
ride because he had a proposal for me. He introduced me to the Frog
Shack –
a popular night spot on the beach. He showed me a good
acoustic/electric guitar and offered to buy me a CD player so I would
have access to any songs I wanted to learn or relearn. He proposed
that I perform at a party he was having in 2 weeks. He asked if I
could learn 20 or 30 songs in that amount of time and that, of
course, there would be money involved.
The party was a
success, but unfortunately it was Peter’s going away party! The
promise of more work and future gigs at “the Frog” were null and
void in the eyes of his replacement. But from that party I did get a
room, some food and some spending money at a bar/guesthouse on Victory Hill called the Rainy Season bar.
“Singing and playing acoustic guitar by myself is hard work. Frightening at times.”
Singing and playing acoustic guitar by myself is hard work. Frightening at times. I almost feel as if I’m cheating the people who are
paying for entertainment. I could describe it like this: imagine an
artistic painter who is given a blank, white canvas with only black paint and asked to
paint an image of a sunset so beautiful it would take your breath
away in a hypnotic gaze of wonder. Alone on stage I was projecting
shades of grey, hiding behind a disingenuous smile and feeling a
discontented heart. Some nights I was pretty good and made many new
friends and gained some degree of confidence in myself, but inside I
knew I was just a musical prostitute selling myself to any john/bar
that would have me!

I met, and have
remained friends with, a man called Shifty who got me a solo
gig at La Ore – a bar a block or so from the beach in
Ocheuteal. By fate or coincidence, I met a new guy in town – the
multi-talented Tommy Nick. His main instrument is drums but
when he joined me on harmonica at La Ore we both could see the
potential. Tom and I met an easy-going chap who called himself Los
Vegas Larry
. He, like myself, a guitar/bass player with an
intense passion for the blues and, just like me, having an imagined
fear of spontaneous human combustion if we don’t find an outlet for
these smoldering embers of pent-up blues emotions. We needed a band!

Do you remember hearing that distinctive click,click,click, sound as your rollercoaster car takes you up that first climb? Out of nowhere someone had dropped a shabby bass guitar into my lap. Almost within the same day Tom came across and brought a decent drum kit. It all happened so fast! Excitement surrounded us. It was magic, what else could we call it? Looking out my coaster car all I could see is blue sky. Clear blue sky and only sunny days ahead!

Fastballs, curveballs, and slimeballs. Life will always throw shit at us. It was about our third gig out in front of La Ore and I remember we were trying to show respect to neighbors as to sound volume and ending the show at 10 pm. All of a sudden, in the middle of a song, a crazed, barefoot, no-shirt lunatic ran from the parking lot across the street and violently lunged himself onto poor Larry! It sent Larry to the ground and sent his guitar pavement-surfing for about 20 yards or so. Thanks to the lightning quick response of some friends and patrons the crazy guy was restrained until the police arrived.

After that incident we had to move on. I felt like I was “all dressed up with no place to go” but we did have a band we were happy with and I could express myself in LIVING COLOR! I knew this was just one twist on the rails of many more twists and turns yet to come. I’m strapped in for this ride and I’m going with it!


I still don’t know the answer to that question. I do remember as a 12 year old kid hearing the words from my 16 year old brother who just received a guitar for Christmas and quickly stashed it under his bed: “Kenny if you ever touch this guitar I will kick your ass!” Who could resist THAT temptation? My predetermined fate had been set in motion. A cheap guitar and a beginner’s book of guitar chords were calling for the sweat from my brow and blood from my fingertips. They were looking to set me up for an adventure only available to those of us who refuse to abide by the social norms and those who take the road less traveled.

The late, great
spirit of Grandpa Ed lives on in me and I only hope to continue to do
his legacy proud.

Stay tuned for the next in this series:

Pain is part of the game! After she opened my chest with a buzz-saw, she then ripped out my heart, stomped on it in the dirt, fried it on the grill, cut it into pieces, stabbed sticks into the pieces and then sold them on the corner for 500 Riel each!