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Smokey’s Secret Family plays Barbes

Six-string star spends down-time playing Park Slope

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Smokey Hormel’s guitar playing is one of the worst kept secrets in rock.

The in-demand six-stringer has spent the better part of his career performing with some of the biggest names in the biz, including Justin Timberlake, Norah Jones, Tom Waits, and Johnny Cash.

When he is back home in New York, however, Hormel is a fixture of the Brooklyn music scene (though he resides in Manhattan), regularly playing more humble gigs at venues such as Sunny’s in Red Hook and Barbes in Park Slope.

On Oct. 24 — after returning home from a tour with Beck — Hormel will be back at Barbes with his band Smokey’s Secret Family. The group performs renditions of rhythm-heavy tunes that originated in Africa and Brazil in the early 1960s.

“I grew up interested in the not heavily-produced sound of late ’50s and early ’60s rock music,” Hormel said. “I found that to be similar to the African music of the ’60s. I thought, ‘If I can play a rockabilly song, I should try out those tunes.’ ”

Hormel keeps the sound of the Secret Family sparse. The group has ballooned up to 10 members at times, but the core lineup includes a pair of percussionists, a tuba player, and a horn player backing up his groovy guitar licks.

“We never rehearse,” he said of his band. “It’s kind of like garage versus stadium rock. We’re trying to hold on to the roughness and looseness of the original recordings.”

And despite the big-name stars he performs with, Hormel said it is Smokey’s Secret Family — along with his other steady gig, a throwback Western swing band called Smokey’s Roundup — that really challenge his guitar-playing chops.

“When you play with three really exceptional Brazilian percussionists, it pushes you to a new level,” said Hormel. “They push me to do something I wouldn’t do alone. Living in New York and working with great musicians like that, I feel blessed at every gig.”

Smokey’s Secret Family plays Barbes [376 Ninth St. at Sixth Avenue in Park Slope, (347) 422-0248, www.barbesbrooklyn.com] Oct. 24 at 10 pm. $10.

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