Eugene Smith — Canadian Music Icon



Author:  Victoria Slager

Article that appeared in ‘More of Our Canada Magazine’ May 2017 Issue

Eugene was the one and only result, way back in 1944, of a short-lived but passionate love affair between his mother, Valeire Abbot, who was a well-known Toronto jazz pianist and vocalist, and Al Lucas, a stand-up jazz bass icon from New York who played with musical greats from Duke Ellington to James Brown.   He 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.  Being the only non-white family living in the area at the time, Eugene had an interesting and sometimes challenging childhood which has given him as songwriter plenty to write about!

Way before Eugene discovered his musical parentage he found himself fascinated by all kinds of music, although his interest in how things worked caused him to smash 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 the same band he backed up John Lee Hooker for an engagement in Toronto in the early 60”s.  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 5 at Maple Leaf Gardens in front of 26,000 screaming fans!  But the best was yet to come…

During the wild and wonderful 60’s Eugene was discovered by Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins and hired as a singer.  He enjoyed 5 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 Warm Up 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!  

Throughout his over 50 years in the Canadian music business Eugene has amassed a huge fan base of Canadians who love listening to his music and hearing his 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 at 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 finding himself on the same stage as a Klu Klux Klan extremist, having a tour of the Queen’s dining room on the Queen Elizabeth luxury ship – the stories are endless and the mark of a man who has lived life to the fullest!

Today Eugene lives on Vancouver Island and performs in Canada and abroad as a solo artist.  He is a familiar sight in the town of Duncan and with his trademark waist-length white dreadlocks is an easily recognizable member of the local artistic community.  Whether picking his rare Gibson 4-string tenor guitar, playing his harmonica, plucking his kalimba, humming on his jaw harp or drumming on his djembe, music oozes out of him and when he adds his powerful and unique voice to the mix, magic happens!

Eugene has written over 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 his many years in the Canadian music industry continues to endear him to his fans who eagerly await his next performance.  Eugene considers himself an entertainer who uses his musical platform to share his love of life and rich experience as a seventh generation African Canadian with the world.   Each show is delivered in his own unique, humorous and entertaining style, bringing to each performance a sense of harmony and the magical 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.  It is high time to celebrate his amazing and long-lived contribution to Canadian music!

Victoria Slager
905 536-5533
108 Orsett St.
Oakville, Ontario
L6H 2N9