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How a country music legend inspired guitar teacher Steve Smillie

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Self-taught guitarist, and Central Coast of Conservatorium guitar teacher and director of the Guitar Ensemble, Steve Smillie’s first professional gig was on the back of a truck aged 13 at a festival in the NSW south coast town of Kiama.

But it all started five years’ earlier when he was eight and heard country music legend Ron Sutton playing in his parents’ bus shed.

“My parents owned the local bus service. There was a group of local country musicians there and they hired a bus to take them out to the first Country Music Festival in Tamworth in 1972. They all had so much fun on the trip they ended up having regular get togethers in the bus shed. That’s where I heard Ron play. I was hooked straight away, playing guitar became my life’s passion.”

Unfortunately Ron died at a young age. In his memory Tamworth Country Music Festival started the Ron Sutton Memorial Award for best instrumentalist, which still runs today.

“I entered that competition and was lucky enough to win the award two years in a row when I was 14 and then 15,” says Steve.

Since then Steve has played in many bands, toured the east coast of Australia, Melbourne and Adelaide. He currently plays in the well-known duo Open Fire with Dani Kelleher – and the pair also perform with the six-piece band The Sounds of London – an Adele and Amy Winehouse show. Steve has also recorded three solo instrumental albums and two albums with his wife Kath Morrison on trumpet.

“I have been very lucky to have had many highlights over the years including winning the Ron Sutton award twice, to playing in the Sydney Opera House and simply when the audience enjoys the music that I play.”

He has also accompanied many artists including Ian Moss (Cold Chisel), Daryl Braithwaite (Sherbet), Tim Freedman (The Whitlams) and Renee Geyer.

With industry experience spanning five decades, Steve has a broad taste in music, specialising in solo finger-style acoustic guitar as well as electric style, blues rock, reggae, country rock and funk. He also plays slide guitar, lap slide and dobro. As he says: “I love any style of music that is played from the heart and with skill.

Steve has been teaching since the early 90s and said his goal as a CCCM teacher includes sharing his passion for playing the guitar and hopefully inspiring students to play well. He also takes the new Guitar Club.

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