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Eugene Smiley, Sr. - The Biography
I was born in New Orleans, LA, and raised by grandparents in the small town of Brookhaven, MS, and by even more relatives in Kansas City, MO. In our family, music was an everyday part of our family values. At an early age I was involved in music and loved it! My Aunt Hazel and my Uncle Charles were my childhood mentors. I wanted to be just like them when I grew up. My father was a gospel singer. He sang with a group called The Pilgrim Travelers. They followed their dreams and became successful doing what they loved to do.
I was playing the piano when I was very young. I learned it from my Aunt Hazel. I played piano for the youth church choir and, as I got older, I began listening to Blues and R&B. My parents didn’t care for that music very much, but I did it anyway. They had to face it; it was a part of my destiny. Although they didn’t try to stop me, they would always tell me that kind of music was the Devil’s music and I would suffer and pay a lot of dues. They were right - I had some dues to pay! Whenever they would leave me home alone, I had that piano jumping. I’d listen to songs on the radio, pick up the chord progressions and play the songs. Blues it was easy. I found R&B to be more challenging because in almost every song, the pattern was different, whereas in Blues the patterns were very simple and repetitive after you’ve played a couple of songs. It didn’t keep my attention like R&B.
In high school, I played piano for most of the R&B vocalists that were performing in talent shows and contests. I graduated from Alexander High School in May 0f 1960. I attended Metropolitan Junior College, in Kansas City, MO, from 1961 thru 1963. I got married and worked at Waid’s Restaurant, which was a burger joint chain organization. Started as a bus boy in 1962 and in 1965 I was given an award for being the first Black Manager in the Greater Kansas City Area. I wasn't very impressed by the award, although I loved the people that I worked with. But I knew there was something missing in my life. Deep in my heart I wanted a better education and I wanted to check out my chances in the music industries. I wasn't satisfied yet.
In 1963, I met James and Tutty Gatson and began hanging with them every chance I got. They were doing exactly what I wanted to do! They had a very popular band called The Derby’s. They were playing the local clubs and also playing behind the artists that came to perform in Kansas City; groups like The Impressions, The Falcons, and artists like Johnny Taylor, Sam & Dave, Sam Cooke, and so many others. They're the ones that really opened the doors for me.
Tutty taught me guitar and gave me my first gig. I felt that I had a chance to step into the spot lights and become a performing artist. I began performing in some of the local clubs here in Kansas City and also some smaller towns not too far from home. My first professional show was with Dionne Warwick. I open the show with two songs,”Mustang Sally” and”I Found a Love”; originally by Wilson Pickett and the Falcons. The audience gave me a standing ovation and wanted me to sing another song. Well, that didn't turn out so good. When I walk back out on the stage, the band started playing a song by Jackie Wilson “Work Out”. All of a sudden - when I look out at the audience and saw all those people yelling and screaming - it scared me so bad I forgot the name of the song I was singing, forgot the entire lyrics to the song, and I was shaking so bad Tutty had to help me off stage! I really don’t know what caused that to happen but I will never forget it. That was a learning experience. It never happened again during my early years.
In 1967 The Chi-lites, a very popular vocal group from Chicago, came to Kansas City to perform at the Town Hall Ballroom. The Promoter, Willie Cyrus, added me with my vocal group (The Delmonties) to perform also. After the performance, we hooked up with the Chi-lites and had breakfast together. That’s when I met and got acquainted with Eugene Record, lead vocalist, writer, arranger for Brunswick Records. He played guitar but never performed with it. He invited me with my group to come to Chicago and audition at Brunswick Records.
We went to Chicago, did the audition, and were accepted. I signed a five- year recording contract. In October of 1968 I moved to Chicago. After we recorded our first 45 single, we became known as The Visitors. We recorded on the Dakar Record Label under the management of Mr. Carl Davis. Our first and best seller was “Until You Came Along” (which became No. 1 on the R&B charts and stayed in Jet Magazine for 9 months) and “I’m In Danger”. My career seemed to have gotten off to a good start. I felt like I was on top of the world! I remember Carl Davis telling me that it doesn’t last forever. "You’ll be on top as long as someone is spending money to keep you on top. That is the way the music business operates." Carl also told me that he would teach me everything that I needed to know to become successful in the music industry. He taught me well. Those were some fun times.
In 1973, after my contract expired, I decided to go on the road as a guitar player and vocalist. During this time period I had the opportunity to play and perform with such greats as; Al Green, Bobby Womack, The Stylistics, The Chi-lites, also the late greats; Johnny Taylor, Albert King, Little Milton, ZZ Hill, Rufus Thomas, just to mention a few.
I decided to return to Kansas City in 1974 to finish college and raise my kids. At this time in my life, with the knowledge I had gained from my experience and in addition to remembering my conversations with Mr. Carl Davis, I knew what to expect in the music business. I went on to Platte College to earn a Business Degree and also attended ECPI to earn a degree in Computer Programming. Had 6+ kids to raise up! Wasn't sure music could cover all that.
Then, in 1976, I met Keith Montgomery (music arranger and writer). Together we established K City Record Company. After setting up and organizing the foundation of the company, we then added Albert White (also a song writer). We produced “The Essence of Love.” Our first recording was “We’re Lovers Day and Night” and “Yes it’s you” which made it to number 2 on the National charts. We then recorded “I Want to Share my Love” and “Marry Me”. We never released this next 45 because of the change in the music industry. Disco and programmed music was taking over. During this period, I faded out of the music scene performing as an artist and worked with Louis Gray Productions as promoter assistance for a while. I remained inactive until 1987.
When I started playing again I went back to my roots and played Gospel. I gradually worked my way back into Blues, R&B, and Jazz. I played with some of the locals here in Kansas City.
It was in 1992 when an old friend of mine from Memphis, Mr. Mayfield Towns, came to me and asked me if I would like to put together a Blues Band with a strong horn section. I decided this could be something I would really enjoy! He and I then talked with Johnny Copowy, a great guitarist who would become the front man for the band. Johnny had excellent communication skills. Together we put together a strong Blues Band consisting of black and white musicians. We named the band The BWB Show Band. BWB was short for black and white musicians playing together. The original members of the band were:
Mayfield Towns -band leader, arranger, trumpet, Alto & Tenor sax
Eugene Smiley -writer, arranger, vocals, Rhythm guitar
Director Johnny Copowy- vocals, Lead guitar, communications, Front man
Mike Kovac - drums
Reggie May - trombone, choreography, wardrobe
Calvin Whitmore- Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone sax
Kim Peeler - bass guitar
Jeff Lucas - keyboards, vocals, writer, arranger, set coordinator
This was one of the Nation's finest Blues Bands of this decade: it had the right sound, look, showmanship and filled the stage with excitement every performance! After getting off to a great start, in 1994 our band leader sadly died from cancer. We were surprised and hurt. It happened so fast.
After healing from the death of our friend and leader, we decided to regroup. We added a new member, Shaun Cassidy to replace Mayfield. And we still had the BIG sound. One night we were playing at the Blue Café in Overland Park, KS and a lady came to me and asked if I would let her seven year old son, who played the harmonica, sit in with us. Of course I said yes. Man, what a big surprise! This kid blew my mind and everybody else that was in the club! The next weekend we were playing the same gig and this kid walks in again. Only this time he had television stations Channel 4 and Channel 9 with him. They filmed him playing with us. That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between the BWB Show Band and this young kid!
We had a meeting and decided on adding him to the group. Now we were Brody Buster and the BWB Show Band. Together we took it to another level! Brody and I hooked up with a manager that worked for Universal Studio in Hollywood. This opened a lot of new doors for us. We did television performances; Jay Leno Show, CNN, Dateline, The BBC, Good Morning America, Crook & Chase Show, Murray Povitch Show, Good Morning Japan. We also played at the White House for the Clinton Administration, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, NV, with Jerry Seinfeld, The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, CA, House of the Blues, Los Angeles, CA, BB King's in Hollywood, CA, and Manning’s Car Wash in New York. We played at many, many Festivals across the country. We even did a cross-country tour in 1996 and 1997. We were very busy and enjoying it.
I had to slow down in 1999 because of health problems. But Brody and I still played together until 2002, and by then I hoped he had learned everything that I could teach him musically. He was just ready to begin college. Brody and I will always be close. He is a part of my life and history. I don't doubt we'll be on stage somewhere together again down the road.
Recently I decided to resurrect K City Records. This is my retirement hobby. I will continue to perform at a lesser pace, write and record music, produce other musicians, and enjoy the many blessing that God has given me. My career has given me more pleasures than downfalls. Although, at one point I really paid some dues just like my grandparents told me I would. Overall - it was worth every minute.
Today, I’m retired and I have my own personal recording studio & a new online radio station. It's incredible to be able to spend my days writing songs, arranging music, and laying tracks. Friends come over and jam in the studio and we record this and that. And I have another CD in the mix right now!
My kids are also very talented and seem to spend even more time in the studio recording their music than I. I am honored to have them following in my footsteps. There’s an old saying “the apple don’t fall too far from the tree.” My concern here is the type of music and the focus they have. They sometimes lose me with their music because I don’t seem to get the point when it comes to Rap. But I’m satisfied with their creativity. They are already recording other young artists and starting to see those artists go on to obtain recording contracts with major labels.
Over all, music has been good to me. I’ve had my share of ups and downs personally and financially. I've paid my dues. I’ve also had a lot of fun along the way.
May God Bless You,
Eugene Smiley, Sr.
Eugene Smiley, Jr.
"More than attitude, more than talent, music is about unity.” Words to live by and that is my motto.
Eugene Smiley, Jr. has a work ethic and a push for excellence that has enabled him to work with nearly every mainstream blues outfit in Kansas City: KC Brass and Electric, Cotton Candy and So Many Men, Mileage Gilbert and the Down Home Blues Band, Linda Shell and the Blues “Thang” and King Alex and the Untouchables. Eugene has also performed behind several National blues artist: Brody Buster, Chick Willis, Vernon Garrett and Kelley Hunt.
Eugene got his start in 1989 playing with King Alex, then a novice keyboard player, Eugene performed with King Alex playing the blues four nights a week at MC’s Bar, then located at 57th and Troost. Alongside Eugene’s father, Eugene Smiley, Sr. as the guitarist for The Untouchables, Eugene was able to learn the “dos and don’ts” of performing. “It’s not what you like; it’s all about satisfying a crowd.” As an Untouchable, Eugene got the opportunity to play many festivals as well as some of Kansas City’s great Blues venues. Though happy as a member of the Untouchables, Eugene had a great passion to become a very good bassist. For five years Eugene watched as he performed with some of Kansas City’s best bassist: Kenny Hudson of Symplicity and Zoe & the Mofos; James Gilbert, son of Millage Gilbert, and bassist for the Down Home Blues Band; Adam Page, bassist for Linda Shell and King Alex; and Marcus Wright, bassist for the Bloodstone. Eugene practiced the “licks” of his mentors.
KC Brass & Electric
Eugene started “Out of the Blue” in 1997 with guitarist Brian Covitz, and drummer Larry Gann. Singing and playing selections of blues, 70’s funk/dance/Rhythm & Blues and Classic Rock & Roll, it wasn’t long before Eugene was recognized as a potential star player. Eugene’s break as a bassist came when he was asked to return to Cotton Candy and So Many Men as the bassist. Cotton Candy had just won the KC Blues Society’s Best Blues Band contest and had taken third place over all in the National competition. After a six-month stay with Cotton Candy, Eugene got the opportunity to work with KC Brass and Electric where he performed on their second CD project entitled. “Tell Me What You Want,” produced by Wayne Jackson, founding member of the Memphis Horns. You will find Eugene’s bass and piano talents on the “Tell Me What You Want” CD, as well as his vocal lead on “Trouble on the River,” which was written by Wayne Jackson. Eugene’s bass prowess can be found on other projects: Brody Buster’s “Blue Devil” and “Clearing The Smoke and Big Slim’s Full House Blues Band’s project (not yet titled) and Big Woody’s Blues Band’s “Under the Covers.”
As a member of the ESB and BWB bands (the bands that performed behind Brody Buster) Eugene has toured the country playing the best venues in the US, as well as opening for some of the greatest artist in the world. The Little River Band, Delbert McClinton, WAR, Joe Walsh, Shameka Copeland and The Just to name a few: Dixie Cadillac’s! Eugene’s attitude and work ethic has opened many doors and many establishments. People are still asking, “When will ‘Out Of The Blue’” be returning?” The future for Eugene Smiley, Jr. is bright indeed. A word to any musician hoping “to live the dream:” “Music is more than attitude, more than talent. Music is about unity.”
…on tour with Random Tuesday