For Smith, the move to fusion from acoustic jazz wasn't commercially motivated. "It was just a natural outgrowth of what I had been doing, he explained. "What happened was, I was listening to everything and fusion was really starting to take off, everyone was doing it. That was the first time I started writing lyrics, too and I was always studying Eastern philosophy, so I said let me put some very positive universal lyrics over some contemporary rhythms, but at the same time keep improvisation. That's the main thing about jazz, anyway. See, I had real jazz musicians playing [in Cosmic Echoes and we] all came out of straight ahead jazz.
The Lonnie Liston Smith sound was also one of the catalysts of acid jazz and he guest-starred on Guru's classic Jazzmatazz, Volume 1
. "I [got] this call from Chrysalis Records telling me they're doing Jazzmatazz. I think Donald Byrd had already done a cut and Roy [Ayers] had done a cut. So I said 'Well, okay, I'm not doing anything.' And the economics were right, so I said 'Oh yeah, that'll work.' But man, the thing that blew me away [was that] when we did it, MTV went crazy! They said 'jazz meets rap!' Now you know MTV, they don't get too involved in jazz. Man, they called us, the phone [was] jumping off the hook, they did all kinds of documentaries, I mean, this thing [was] splashed all over the world on MTV. So I guess we were the first to do that. Donald Byrd and I went on a tour with Guru overseas in Japan and...then [these] young kids [would] walk up to [me] and say 'Hey man, I just discovered you. We heard you with Guru.'
Despite being in his mid 60s, Lonnie Liston Smith still looks forward to new challenges and opportunities every day with an enthusiasm that many younger men would envy. "I discovered Marcus Miller when he was about 16 years old and he turned out to be a fantastic musician and producer. So I'm hoping that in the future maybe we can get together and he can produce something again. And I would hope that Pharoah Sanders and I can...do a major tour. A lot of the world didn't get an opportunity to catch us when we were together. It's like I'm starting all over again, that's the way I look at it, because I've become interested is so many different things lately and it's great. Recommended Listening:
· Pharoah Sanders - Karma (Impulse!, 1969)
· Pharoah Sanders - Thembi (Impulse!, 1970)
· Pharoah Sanders - Summun Bakmun Umyum (Deaf Dumb Blind) (Impulse!, 1970)
· Gato Barbieri - Fenix (Philips-RCA, 1971)
· Lonnie Liston Smith's Cosmic Echoes - Astral Traveling (Flying Dutchman-RCA Bluebird, 1973)
· Lonnie Liston Smith - Live! (RCA, 1977)