With his creative juices flowing once again after five long years away from music, Derek Smalls, the bass force formerly of the fabled heavy metal band formerly known as Spinal Tap, is celebrating the start of the holiday season with a call to his former bandmates to “rock some more.” This comes on the release of the deluxe edition of his star-studded 2018 solo debut, Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing), available now via Bottomland Productions / Immortal Records.
“As a rock’n’roller, I really never expected to make it past 27,” says Smalls. “Here I am with all 10 fingers and all five strings, still ready to rock. Maybe my colleagues are getting older too. So, I’d say, it’s time to rock some more.”
Hailed by Variety as “the first long player devoted primarily to the physical indignities that come toward the end of the long game – dental, arthritic, follicular and erectile dysfunctions all included,” the album is now expanded with two previously unheard tracks recorded live at Los Angeles, CA’s sold-out Palace Theatre in February 2019 accompanied by The Hungarian Studio Orchestra, including “She Puts the Bitch in Obituary” (featuring vocals from award-winning star of stage and screen, Jane Lynch) and the demonic “Hell Toupee,” the latter joined by an official live video streaming now on YouTube. An official music video for album track “MRI,” featuring guest guitar fireworks from Dweezil Zappa is also streaming on YouTube.
Having spent a legendary lifetime in the rock ‘n’ roll limelight, Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing) saw Derek Smalls making his full-length debut solo venture with a poignant and oft-times furious contemplation on the passing of time and all things loud.
Produced by longtime collaborator CJ Vanston, the album traverses a gamut of musical styles, all with the edgy rawness and Rock God sensibility that was always shared by Smalls and his fellow former band members, Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins. Smalls is joined by an all-star lineup of his closest friends and biggest fans, including Donald Fagen, Dweezil Zappa, Rick Wakeman, Richard Thompson, Steve Lukather, Joe Satriani, Waddy Wachtel, Michael League, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Paul Shaffer, Steve Vai, Larry Carlton, Judith Owen, Jane Lynch, and the late Taylor Hawkins, with accompaniment from The Hungarian Studio Orchestra.
Smalls Change – which was made possible by a major grant from the British Fund for Ageing Rockers – was celebrated with a sold-out VIP event concert at Los Angeles, CA’s historic Palace Theatre featuring appearances from Vai, Lukather, Zappa, and Shaffer, live link-ups with Fagen and Lynch, and special surprise guests Tenacious D (Jack Black and Kyle Gass). A sold-out US tour, Lukewarm Water Live: An Adventure in Loud Music, followed, with unprecedented and unexpected visits at prestigious concert venues across the country.
ABOUT DEREK SMALLS:
The Road of Rock is a rocky road, and no one’s life exemplifies that more thoroughly than that of Derek Albion Smalls.
Derek was born 1 April “hundreds of years before the dawn of history,” having to endure growing up as an “April Fool’s Baby.” His father, Donald “Duff” Smalls, raised Derek after his mother, Dorothy, left home to join a traveling all-girls’ jazz band, The Hotten Totties.
While Derek had a quiet school career in his hometown of Nilford, on the River Null in the West Midlands, Duff carried on his work as a telephone handset sanitizer, working for the pioneering firm in the trade, Sani-Phone, until it was absorbed by the former British Telecom, primarily, according to reports at the time, for its “robust bill-collecting operation.”
At age 17, Derek enrolled in the London School of Design, primarily, as he later explained it, “because of the initials.” Like many art-school students of the period, he was more interested in music, and soon found himself a member of the all-white Jamaican band Skaface. “I never even tried to play the guitar, because it had too many strings and they were too small. Bass felt just right,” he told Ska News.
Walking one day in 1967 through the then-tatty Soho district of London, Derek spotted a Bass Player Wanted notice on one of the neighborhood’s lampposts. It turns out Ronnie Pudding had just left the band Spinal Tap for a solo career after their first single, “Gimme Some Money,” had failed to chart. Derek fit right in and made a notable contribution to the band’s jump on the Flower Power bandwagon, mouthing a silent “We love you” at the end of its performance of “(Listen To) The Flower People” on the short-lived TV music show, Bob’s Your Uncle.
Tap then went on to carve a reputation as one of England’s loudest bands. Its series of mishaps – breakups and reunions, drummers perishing in bizarre ways – was chronicled in a 1984 film. “A hatchet job,” Derek calls it dismissively. “There were plenty of nights when we found our way to the stage, but of course they didn’t show you that.”
In the late 1980s, as Tap’s fortunes waned, Derek joined a Christian heavy-metal band, Lambsblood. Their best-known song, “Whole Lotta Lord,” made a respectable showing on the Christian charts. To cement his relationship with the band members, all of whom were Americans, Smalls got a Christian “fish tattoo.” As luck would have it, Tap soon reunited for 1992’s Break Like the Wind album and toured across America. Concerned that he would have to cover up the tattoo, Derek hired an artist to fix it, and the piece now featured a devil eating the fish.
Following that tour, Tap broke up and reunited twice more, once in 2000 for an American tour that included a historic New York venue that Derek described onstage as “Carnegie Fuckin’ Hall,” and in 2009 for appearances at the Glastonbury Festival and Wembley Arena. In between, Derek cultivated a near-thriving career on camera, building upon his cameo role in the 1979 Spaghetti Eastern, Roma ‘79. He appeared in TV commercials for the Belgian snack food Floop, and served for a time as a judge (alongside the lead singer for the Europunk band Hot Garage) on the Dutch reality competition show RokStarz before the show was rebooted as Tomorrow’s HipHop Hero. Derek stepped forward as a composer during this time; his jingle for Floop, “I’m in the Floop Group”, was a regular earworm on European television until the publisher of “The In Crowd” threatened a plagiarism lawsuit.
Derek’s fortunes have fluctuated with his romantic entanglements. His long-time girlfriend Cindy Stang went through a good share of his back royalties to launch her ill-fated tech start-up, macrame.com. Of that project, Smalls now says ruefully, “It was ahead of its time. Or behind the curve. Or both.” He’s also had his share of personal struggles, having twice sought treatment for internet addiction.
In 2019, Smalls parlayed his celebrity in the Low Countries of Europe in a position as Brand Ambassador for BruegelCoin, a Dutch-based crypto coin. He made personal appearances outside branches of traditional banks and did TV and press interviews promoting the cryptocurrency. In 2022, BruegelCoin collapsed in a wave of lawsuits. Derek, who had been paid in the novel currency, was out of luck…