This month marks 20 years since the release of "Smooth," the smash hit by Santana that was written by Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas (also the singer on the track) and Itaal Shur, a former Cincinnatian who cut his teeth locally playing keys for local late ’80s Alt sensations Sleep Theater before heading to New York in 1990.
Thomas is performing tonight (June 3) at Riverbend's PNC Pavilion and will almost certainly play "Smooth," which today was written up in an "oral history" on Rolling Stone's website in honor of its forthcoming anniversary (it was released on June 29, 1999). Tickets are still available.
The track — which was part of a Santana near-sweep at the 2000 Grammys, winning the trophies for Record of the Year and Song of the Year — was legendary guitarist Carlos Santana's first hit in many years (as well as his last chart-buster).
"Smooth" was a career milestone for everyone involved, including Schur, who — according to a 2016 Billboard profile (written by Cincinnatian Gil Kaufman) — was working as a session musician and producer in New York (he worked on Maxwell's 1996 debut album) when he met an A&R person from Arista Records who was looking for material for Santana's star-studded Supernatural album.
Shur told Billboard that after listening to the album, he felt there was "a hole" in it. "That hole was a classic 'Black Magic Woman' beat," he said. "The classic Santana sound wasn’t there. I thought, 'I'm gonna do that.' "
Shur wrote the Latin-flavored song, but the A&R person wasn't crazy about the lyrics, so they enlisted Thomas to help finish it. According to Rolling Stone, all of the parties involved thought it was a hit… except for Santana, who had to be persuaded to record it by Arista head Clive Davis.
"When it hit No. 1, I was like, 'Oh, my God — I can’t believe this is happening.' I thought No. 1 hits were the Backstreet Boys or something," Shur told Rolling Stone. "That’s the part that blew my mind, because Santana wasn’t young to that current generation. I didn’t think it was possible."
Shur continues to write and produce, working extensively with singer/songwriter Lucy Woodward, who has recorded for Atlantic and Verve Records. Shur also worked on Cincinnati Funk veteran Freekbass' just-released new album, All The Way This. All The Way That. (Shur played with Freekbass in Sleep Theater).