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Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith: my life in 10 songs

Adrian Smith
(Image credit: John McMurtrie)

Adrian Smith may be the guitarist in one of the world's most iconic heavy metal bands Iron Maiden, but he's also about as down to earth as they come. A thoroughly pleasant English gent, he fell in love with all things rock thanks to the likes of Deep Purple, Humble Pie and Status Quo and has carried that love throughout his career since. "It's in my blood," he admits. "I grew up with all those bands and loving it all keeps the spirit alive even after the people have gone."

With his newest project Smith/Kotzen about to make their UK live debut, we got Adrian to pick out the ten songs that best tell his story - from his two separate stints in Maiden (1980 - 1989 and 1999 - present respectively) to solo projects, guest appearances and collaborations that have made him a rock and metal icon. 

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1. Adrian Smith/Dave Murray – Paper Plane (Unreleased)

“When I was starting out, it was me and Dave Murray playing covers in our bedroom when we were like 15. We were mad Status Quo fans – and this was in the early days so there was no Marguerita Time or that nonsense! They inspired us a lot and so we decided to get something together, pulling in a few friends to fill the band up. It was something I did for a good few years, playing in bands like Urchin where I was the singer and guitarist."

2. Iron Maiden – Twilight Zone (single, 1981)

“Going right back to when I joined Iron Maiden, to the song Twilight Zone from the Killers period. It was actually a single we released before the album initially; we put it out with the song Wrathchild. Martin Birch wasn’t in the studio when we recorded it, so we knocked it together ourselves. We recorded the backing track and it was so fast that when we went to dub the guitars we took the original riff off so we had to re-write it around a Dave Murray riff instead.

I wasn’t really involved in the writing process at that point – they still had a few songs leftover from recording the first album, which makes sense, because your first album is usually the culmination of years of writing and playing leading up to that."


3. Iron Maiden – Stranger In A Strange Land (Somewhere In Time, 1986)

“Jumping right forward to Somewhere In Time and one of the last songs I wrote for the band before my departure, Stranger In A Strange Land. We were recording at Wisseloord Studios, which is in Holland about an hour outside Amsterdam. I actually lived in Amsterdam for about two months which was… interesting. It wasn’t in the nice part of town, but we had fun! I really liked that album and had a lot of fun recording it.”


4. A.S.a.P. – Fighting Man (single, 1989)

“Another one that didn’t actually appear on an album, Fighting Man was one I released with A.S.a.P. – Adrian Smith and Project and was a B-side. I have a real soft spot for the song – it was written by my old mate Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell who was in Bad Company and is one of my oldest friends. He wrote Fighting Man and we recorded it down in Surrey. It actually started life as a Samson song. Bucket was in that band too, so they used to do a version of the song. It all gets a bit incestuous! 

I sing on that too, so it was nice to go back to the kind of things I was doing with Dave Murray in the early days. It was a lot of work though, singing the whole album and I wish I’d known then as much as I do now about studios. But, it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry and Bucket always wrote great songs for my voice, which is perhaps the most important thing you need when writing – it’s no good writing a part for Robert Plant if you can’t sing like him.”


5. Michael Kiske – The Calling (Instant Clarity, 1996)

“After I left Maiden I ended up doing a couple of solo albums, as well as some work with a guy called Michael Kiske, of the band Helloween. He’s a great guy and was in the same position as me, he had left a big band and was looking to do a solo album. We shared management and they suggested we get together because he was looking for songs for his first solo album. I went out to Hamburg – or near it, at least – and stayed with him a couple of times, which was funny because I’d never actually met him so just turned up on the doorstep with my guitar! 

We got on really well and wrote a couple of cracking songs, one of which is called The Calling. He was a bit eccentric though and had rented this dilapidated house in northern Germany which had all the recording gear in but no heating. It was bloody freezing. The room I slept in, we blocked up with cardboard to stop the draft. It was good fun though and he kept trying to get me to write a song like 2 Minutes To Midnight or Total Eclipse, a B-side from The Number Of The Beast.”


6. Psycho Motel – A Quarter To Heaven (Welcome To The World, 1997)

In Psycho Motel I had two singers – the first was a guy called Hans-Olav Solli, who sang on our first album. I actually got him because Maiden gave me all the audition tapes they had when they were looking for a singer after Bruce left. They obviously picked Blaze (Bayley) but they had boxes and boxes of CDs, cassettes and whatever of people trying out and when I was looking for someone for my new band the management said ‘here you go’ and gave them all to me.

Hans-Olav Solli was from the band Sons Of Angels and I thought they were really good. The second guy was Andy Makin, who I thought had a really interesting voice. Andy came over to help write the second Psycho Motel album and we ended up completing it in like 10 days, working at a pace of a song a day or so and I still really like A Quarter To Heaven.”


7. Bruce Dickinson – Man Of Sorrows (Accident Of Birth, 1997)

“After I did that second Psycho Motel album I  was finding it hard to get a touring thing going. Bruce Dickinson called me up one day and asked what I was doing. I told him I’d got this album which I hadn’t even released at that point and didn’t know what to do with. He told me was working with this guy Roy Z, who is a really good guitarist and writes great songs, do I want to join them? I heard the demos for Accident Of Birth and thought they were really good, so joined up.

I really loved the ballad Man Of Sorrows; Bruce sat down at this piano and I had no idea he could even play! I think the guitar solo is one of the best I’ve done. It’s funny; I spent ages working on a great solo for the song and when I showed it to Roy he said ‘nah, it sounds too worked out, do another off the top of your head’. I’d been working on it all day by that point! But the very next take I did was perfect and that's what we used - I'm still very proud of that solo.”


8. Greg Ridley – Live To Learn (Anthology… All I Ever Needed, 2005)

“After 2000 I was back in Iron Maiden, but had a bit of free time. My old mate Bucket calls and says do you fancy playing with Greg Ridley. Greg was the original bassist in Humble Pie, who were a massive influence on me when I was a kid – as much as Status Quo, even. 

Unfortunately, Greg had been struggling for a long time with cancer and before he died he wrote some songs with Bucket and they put out a posthumous anthology called All I Ever Needed and I was privileged to sing one of the songs he’d written, especially as he was one of my heroes. The song was Live To Learn, which we actually recorded at ACDC’s studio in Islington.”


9. Bucket & Co. – Make Up Your Mind (Guitars, Beers & Tears, 2010)

“Bucket’s name keeps popping up I know, but we’ve worked together a fair bit. He’s actually opening for us on the Smith/Kotzen tour, with Buckets Rebel Heart. He called me when he was looking for someone to sing on his first album with Bucket & Co. on the song Make Up Your Mind – I had a lot of fun with that.”


10.   Smith/Kotzen – Running (Smith/Kotzen, 2021)

“The first song Richie [Kotzen] and I wrote together was called Running. We’ve been friends for a while and done some jamming because I live part-time in Los Angeles and he’s out there too. There were a few times where Richie and I would be playing late into the night doing Stevie Ray Vaughn, Humble Pie, Free… all the old stuff. 

We were having a great old time and my missus said ‘why don’t you write together?’ which is exactly what we did. Running set the tone for finishing up the album; often you’ll meet up with someone, have a few beers and talk about things you’re going to do but never actually do, but we did actually do an album. I’m really glad we did too, Smith/Kotzen has been very gratifying.”

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Smith/Kotzen tour the UK from February 27 to March 7. For full dates, visit the band's website.

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.