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Smokey Hormel was born and raised in Los Angeles. As a teenager he studied jazz guitar with the great Bob Wills guitarist Jimmy Wyble, and hung around his uncle's famed '70s rock superstar recording studio the Village Recorders. He studied acting in New York with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse, then returned to L.A. and established himself in the local punk and roots music scene. He was guitarist in Western Swing band The Radio Ranch Straight Shooters before moving on to rockabilly purists the Blasters, where he played alongside his mentor New Orleans tenor sax legend Lee Allen. Upon leaving the Blasters Smokey and harp player Lester Butler launched the underground Los Angeles blues phenomenon the Blue Shadows (later the Red Devils), playing legendary shows at L.A.'s King King Club.

Smokey joined Beck on the breakthrough Odelay tour and has been an active part of Beck’s musical world ever since. Smokey’s graceful slide guitar and samba skills shaped the Tropicalia-inspired Mutations album, he is also featured on the melancholy Sea Change, the 2014 grammy winning “best album” Morning Phase, and 2019’s Hyperspace.

Smokey was an integral part of Tom Waits' much-lauded Get Behind The Mule tour, bringing performing verve to the stage with guitar, banjo and mandolin. He was featured on the accompanying Mule Variations album, playing guitar, dobro, and a pickup truck full of African instruments.

Smokey was a key player on a series of Rick Rubin productions, including the Adele smash hit album 21 and Johnny Cash's haunting version of Nine Inch Nails' Hurt. Smokey is featured on five Johnny Cash albums, as well as recordings by Neil Diamond, Justin Timberlake, the Dixie Chicks, Josh Groban, Kid Rock, and Jennifer Nettles. Smokey and Clash frontman Joe Strummer’s co-written song The Long Shadow, a result of their working together on Johnny Cash's When the Man Comes Around sessions, can be heard on Strummer's Streetcore album.

As an in-demand session player and touring sideman Smokey has worked with notables such as Norah Jones, Rufus Wainwright, Bernie Worrell, Sean Lennon, John Doe, David Lynch, RL Burnside, kd Lang, Marianne Faithfull, and Beth Orton, among many others. Smokey can be heard on the cartoon TV series The Backyardigans as well as on film scores such as David Lynch's The Straight Story, Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, and Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy, Wendy and LucyNight Moves, and Certain Women.

After relocating to New York City, Smokey formed Bossa Nova combo Smokey & Miho with Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori. Their two EP releases celebrated the music of Brazilian songwriter/guitar prodigy Baden Powell, and their exuberant live shows garnered a devoted downtown following. Smokey's African-flavored baritone guitar was an essential part of Forro In the Dark, purveyors of the raucous Bahian cowboy music of Luis Gonzaga. Late-night Forro parties drew crowds of dancers, and Forro in the Dark’s two albums featured collaborations with Bebel Gilberto, Seu Jorge, Steve Earle, and David Byrne.

Smokey's love of African guitar and Brazilian percussion fueled years of exhilarating Smokey’s Secret Family’s shows. Assorted top-shelf New York horn players and percussionists joined Smokey's free flowing, deftly melodic guitar to bring Brooklyn audiences out onto the dance floor. The Smokey's Secret Family 2009 self-titled album is a joyous interpretation of 1950's Congolese music. More recently, a three year collaboration with contemporary Senegalese songwriter and guitarist Oumar Ndiyae resulted in the beautiful 2021 album Soutoura

Since 2008 New York’s best kept secret Smokey's Round-Up has been in weekly residence at Sunny’s bar in Brooklyn, a holdout on the Red Hook waterfront. The Round-Up is Smokey’s return to his early love of 1930s Western Swing - country music for dancers. The tight five-piece band wows Sunny's crowds with virtuoso guitar and a vast repertoire of great, long lost American songs, a bountiful treasure for music lovers.

Smokey's Liner Note Legends video interview

Smokey talks about the Blasters, Lee Allen, Beck, Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash, his love of Brazilian music, and his early days in Los Angeles.