Show­case: Rockin’ On, Five Decades and Count­ing

His proud and tal­ented girl­friend in­tro­duces us to ver­sa­tile Cana­dian mu­sic icon Eu­gene Smith.

More of Our Canada - - Contents - by Vic­to­ria Slager,

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.

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