Showcase: Rockin’ On, Five Decades and Counting
His proud and talented girlfriend introduces us to versatile Canadian music icon Eugene Smith.
I’d like to tell you the remarkable story of Eugene Smith, a Canadian music icon who has shared his creativity and unique approach to music and entertainment with the Canadian public for more than 50 years.
But first allow me to set the stage. For the past ten years, Eugene and I have been in a long-distance relationship. He lives on Vancouver Island in Duncan, B.C., and is a beloved member of the arts community there, and I live in Oakville, Ont., where I pursue a busy career as a dancer, choreographer and dance instructor. Eugene comes to Ontario in the summertime to play gigs and to spend time with me, and I go out to British Columbia for the Christmas holidays and every other chance I get. I’ve also performed with Eugene as a dancer, creating pieces specifically for his songs, or dancing my own choreography during his performances. Ours is a rich and rewarding personal and professional connection, which has allowed me to fully appreciate his musical and vocal talents, and his contributions to the Canadian music scene.
Eugene was born in 1944, the one and only result of a short-lived but passionate love affair between his mother, Valeire Abbot, a well-known Toronto jazz pianist and vocalist, and Al Lucas, a respected stand- up jazz bass player from New York, who played with musical greats from Duke Ellington to James Brown. Eugene was raised in New Toronto by his uncle and aunt, Doug and Grace Smith, and did not discover his actual parentage until he was 16 years old. A member of the
only non-white family living there at the time, Eugene had an interesting, sometimes challenging childhood, which gave him plenty of material to work with as a songwriter.
Way before Eugene discovered his musical parentage, he found himself fascinated by all kinds of music, although his interest in how things worked got him into trouble every now and then, like the time he smashed open the first mandolin his adopted father gave him, in order to find out what was inside! In his teen years, he began his career as lead vocalist for J Smith and the Majestics. With that band, he backed up John Lee Hooker for an engagement in Toronto in the early ’60s. Soon after, he recorded “Howlin’ For My Darlin’” by Howlin’ Wolf, which quickly hit the charts on CHUM radio. He and the band then opened for the Dave Clark Five at Maple Leaf Gardens in front of 26,000 screaming fans! But the best was yet to come!
During the wild and wonderful ’ 60s, Eugene was discovered by Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins and hired as a singer. He enjoyed five years of great success as a soloist and backup singer with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, touring extensively throughout Canada and the Unites States. He then left to form his own band, Eugene Smith and the Warmup Band, which went on to share the stage with such amazing musical talent as The Beach Boys, B.B. King, King Curtis, Gordon Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia Tyson, k.d. Lang, Lenny Breau and Bo Diddley to name just a few!
Over the years, Eugene has amassed a huge fan base of Canadians who love listening to his music and hearing the stories—often unbelievable but inevitably true—of his musical adventures on the road. Having a conversation with a five-year old Justin Trudeau outside of a wedding he was playing in Montreal, meeting his real father Al Lucas in New York when he was 38 (two weeks before Al was killed in a fatal car accident), on the road with Ronnie Hawkins in Arkansas and finding himself on the same stage as a Klu Klux Klan extremist, getting to tour the Queen’s dining room on the
Queen Elizabeth— the stories are endless and the mark of a man who loves to live life to the fullest.
Today, Eugene performs in Canada and abroad as a solo artist. He is a familiar sight in
Duncan, and, with his trademark waist- length white dreadlocks, is an easily recognizable member of the local artistic community. Whether picking his rare Gibson four-string tenor guitar, playing his harmonica, plucking his kalimba, humming on his jaw harp or drumming on his djembe, music oozes out of him. When he adds his powerful, unique voice to the mix, magic happens!
Eugene has written more than 200 songs, and listening to a concert of his is like hearing a cross section of Canadian music history. His rich and eclectic journey through the Canadian music industry continues to endear him to his fans. Eugene considers himself an entertainer who uses his musical platform to share with the world his love of life and rich experience as a seventh-generation African Canadian. Each show is delivered in his unique, humorous and entertaining style, creating a sense of harmony via the power of music.
The Canadian music industry often loses its greats to the lure of foreign success. Eugene has remained a staunch Canadian symbol of the growth of the music industry in Canada and its rich and multi-cultured legacy. I believe it’s high time to celebrate Eugene’s amazing and longlived contribution to Canadian music!
Left: Eugene in fine playing form, as shown in the cover photo of his 2014 CD, Now and Forever. For more details, see www. eugenesmith.ca.
THEN & NOW At left, Eugene Smith and the Warmup Band in the ’60s. Below, from left: Steve Creptack, Eugene, John Judge and Carl Rabinowitz.