N.D. Smart II is one of those names that keeps turning up, in album credits, the occasional songwriter's line, or the lineups of lots of bands that attracted attention, especially in the 1960s. One of the more versatile New York-based drummers of the late '60 and the 1970s, he was a ubiquitous presence across a huge spectrum of recordings, embracing sounds ranging from garage punk and psychedelia to hard rock and country-rock, as well as blues and folk-rock.
Born Norman Smart in Dayton, OH, he started playing drums in the early to mid-'60s, turning professional in the middle of the decade -- among the notable local bands that he played with were the Rich Kids (not to be confused with the Long Island-spawned group later signed to RCA Victor), who renamed themselves the Mark V, and the Knights, who subsequently changed their name to Thee Rubber Band, where he first met bassist Jim Colegrove. Smart moved to New York City in 1966, where one of the most important acquaintances he made was Felix Pappalardi, a local musician who had already been on a few folk records and was starting to make a noise in electric rock -- Pappalardi steered Smart to Barry & the Remains, who were in the market for a drummer at the time -- he joined just in time to play on the tour where they opened for the Beatles. He subsequently left Barry & the Remains, but not before appearing on their only LP (where he sang, in addition to playing drums) for Epic Records. Smart returned to Ohio, where he began working with his former Thee Rubber Band stablemate Jim Colegrove.
The two headed for Boston, where they organized a group called the Bait Shop with Joe Hutchinson and Eddie Mottau, who had previously worked as Two Guys from Boston. The quartet later moved to New York City, where they reunited with Pappalardi -- who knew not only Smart, but also Hutchinson and Mottau -- and decided to get a record out for them through Atlantic Records, where he was under contract as a producer. In the process, they changed their name to Bo Grumpus, and it was in that guise that they began building a reputation in various Greenwich Village clubs. Smart, however, didn't remain with the band and left before its one and only album, Before the War, was complete. He subsequently played on David Santo's Silver Currents album, but his most important recording work of the period came from a contact he made while still with Bo Grumpus.
It was while playing at the Cafe Wha? on MacDougal Street in the Village that he crossed paths with a Washington, D.C.-based group called Kangaroo. Smart subsequently joined their lineup, which included Ted Spelios (guitar), John Hall (bass), and Barbara Keith on lead vocals. They were later signed to MGM Records and recorded a complete LP as well as releasing three singles, none of which charted. In addition to drumming and some vocals, Smart's contribution to the LP included some songwriting, although most critics were somewhat dubious as to the quality of his efforts in that area. Kangaroo broke up in 1969, and Smart jumped to another band that had made its name in Greenwich Village, the Hello People. Their somewhat more elaborate presentation -- which included elements of mime in their live performances -- propelled them to some serious media exposure, including appearances on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
But he soon found himself sidetracked from the Hello People through a series of early-1969 recording sessions that he played with guitarist Leslie West, late of the Vagrants -- Pappalardi was producing (and playing on) a solo project for West and engaged Smart as the drummer. The resulting album, titled Mountain and issued on Windfall Records, led to the formation of a trio of the same name featuring West, Pappalardi, and Smart -- their blazing hard rock sound, showcased at the Woodstock festival, quickly turned them into an arena rock institution. And somewhere amid all of that high-wattage work, Smart also managed to play on his ex-Kangaroo colleague Barbara Keith's debut solo album.
Smart took one of his periodic sharp career turns in late 1969, quitting Mountain (which may well have saved his hearing) and moving into the lineup of the Ian & Sylvia-spawned country-rock band Great Speckled Bird, alongside Amos Garrett (guitar) and Buddy Cage (steel guitar), with Colegrove joining on bass soon after. Great Speckled Bird became Smart's musical home for the next couple of years, and eventually he, Colegrove, and pianist Jeff Gutcheon, who had come aboard in 1970, formed a recording unit of their own and landed a contract with the Bearsville label, billed as Hungry Chuck, with Garrett joining on lead guitar. Smart later began working again with the Hello People, which brought him into the orbit of Todd Rundgren, with whom they toured -- the group was later folded into Rundgren's backing band, and Smart ended up playing on the latter's debut solo album, Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren. He also became a member of Gram Parsons' touring band, the Fallen Angels, his work with them represented on Parsons' Reprise album Grievous Angel and later issued on several posthumous releases.
Smart went on to record with James Cotton, Bobby Charles, Jackie Lomax, and Jesse Winchester, among others. He worked with Rundgren throughout the late '70s and the 1980s, appearing on the albums Back to the Bars and Nearly Human. In the 1990s, Smart kept up his recording activities with Colegrove, Gutcheon, and Garrett as Hungry Chuck, and in more recent years he has continued his musical endeavors, including occasional performances with a trio. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi