THINKIN’ ABOUT YOU: THE STORY OF GRANT SMITH & THE POWER
Grant Smith & The Power are one of the cornerstones of Toronto's thriving R&B scene. The band was a training ground (much like Ronnie Hawkins band) for up and coming local musicians. Members of Grant Smith's group went on to be in Motherlode, McKenna Mendelson Mainline Jericho and Dr. Music; among others. Along with The Mandala, David Clayton Thomas' bands, Bobby Kris & The Imperials, Jon-Lee & The Checkmates, Robbie Lane & The Disciples and more; they were instrumental in developing what later became known as "The Toronto Sound."
Ellis Grant Smith was born and raised in London, Ontario. A lover of soul and R&B, Grant often sang along to his favorite records, but his early days in music were as a drummer not as a singer.
By 1966, his group Zeke & The Moonshiners had run its course. Being an early alt-country outfit, Grant was dissatisfied with the material and direction. He was plotting his exit not long after joining. He'd leave and soon afterwards formed E.G. Smith and The Express. This group played music that Grant loved and so he gave his all every time they got on stage. His raw, albeit untrained voice was instrumental in helping build the popularity of the group. They quickly gained a live reputation around Ontario for their "show-stopping" talent and live energy.
As 1966 came to a close, Grant's band had reached newfound levels of popularity and began gigging in Toronto. On the other hand, Eddie Spencer had been fired from his band, Eddie Spencer & The Power just before Christmas. Two other members were given the boot as well; guitarist Les Morris and Jerry Mann on sax.
New Year’s Day of 1967 saw "The Power" bring in a new singer. Grant Smith got the gig and brought along two of his ex-bandmates from "The Express." Guitarist Jim Pauley joined immediately alongside Grant, but drummer Wayne Stone took a bit more convincing.
During its first year, the band established a solid fan base on southern Ontario’s dance circuit, billed either as E. G. Smith & The Power or as Grant Smith & The Power. Their popularity continued to grow, many wondered why the group had yet to record. The truth was, there had been no interest from labels up until this point; something was clearly missing. They hired a new manager and under his direction, officially renamed the group to "Grant Smith & The Power."
Shortly after a June 27th show at the Broom & Stone in Scarborough, Charlie Miller left the band. With the lineup reduced to a single drummer, Wayne Stone cut his teeth in the solo drummer chair at a week-long summer resort gig in Grand Bend, Ontario.
With the departure of original drummer Charlie Miller and remaining group featuring Grant Smith on lead vocals, Mike Harrison on bass, Wayne Stone on drums, Ralph Miller on trumpet, Brian Ayers on sax, and Val Stevens on organ and keyboards, the line-up was solidified. This line-up would stay together for six months, playing any and every club they could, around Toronto; including eight bookings at Ronnie Hawkins' famed Hawk's Nest club that year alone.
They planned a tour of the eastern U.S. in July-August and managed to secure label interest, both locally and abroad. They spent the remainder of summer 1967 working clubs in the Boston area and in upstate New York.
Upon their return to Toronto, around September 1967, guitarist Jim Pauley decided to quit the group frustrated with the lack of success. He was swiftly replaced with the talented Jon Palma. With a repertoire of material ready to go, they hooked up with producer John C. Irvine in Toronto and headed into Art Snider's Sound Canada Studios.
They recorded a number of songs during the recording sessions in November including "Keep On Running, Her Own Life, You Got What I Want and Thinkin' About You." The latter two songs were recorded a week later and made up their second single later that year. The second sessions saw them paired with back-up singers "The Tiaras" and Toronto's chief purveyor of "Northern Soul," songwriter Al Rain. The result was a fantastic soul/funk double sider that has since become a collector's item among fans of the genre. One thing that both these sessions had in common was, Steve Kennedy (then of Eric Mercury & The Soul Searchers) was hired to play saxophone.
John C. Irvine convinced the band to release their debut single on his newly founded Boo label; they'd go on to be label mates with "A Passing Fancy." "Keep on Running" (made famous by The Spencer Davis Group a few years prior), paired with the original "Her Own Life" [written by Grant Smith and Val Stevens] came out in January 1968, and was a minor hit; cracking #20 on the local charts.
Seeing the success of "Keep On Running," the band booked another small tour of the eastern U.S. for March; trying to capitalize and expand their audience. On March 17, 1968, between U.S. dates, Grant Smith & The Power opened for The Hollies and Spanky & Our Gang at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre. Their knock out live show paired with the success of "Keep on Running" caught the attention of MGM A&R rep Tony Orlando at one New York gig. He brought them to the attention of MGM who signed them to a deal after hearing the demos of their second single. They loved the songs and planned on releasing it on both sides of the border.
As the months rolled on, their sophomore single was readied for release. The single was planned to drop during May 1968 in Canada and August 1968 in the United States. Unfortunately, it failed to chart abroad but found minor success in Canada. Interestingly, "You Got What I Want" was the A-side in Canada, while "Thinkin' About You" was the A-side in America.
Summer saw the band gigging frequently in Toronto (playing The Hawk's Nest twice) as well as touring around Ontario, in promotion of their second single. Seeing futility in the process and looking for a change in musical direction, Mike Harrison left at the start of October; soon to join McKenna Mendelson Mainline. The group decided to not replace him, instead having keyboardist Val Stevens cover bass on Hammond Organ. Unbeknownst to everyone else however, Val had been experiencing mixed feelings about his place in the band. The departure of Mike was the final straw, seeing him leave a few days afterwards.
Within a few short days the band had lost two-thirds of its rhythm section and with plans of recording an album in a few weeks, they needed to find replacements quick! Fortunately for them, scene mates Eric Mercury & The Soul Searchers were breaking up. Saxophonist Steve Kennedy and keyboardist William "Smitty" Smith were out of work and thanks to previously working with the band on their recordings, Steve was well acquainted with Grant and the boys. They got the job with little contest and set to work learning the material for the upcoming album recording.
By the end of October 1968, the band had recorded their album. They again recorded with John C. Irvine for his Boo label, at Art Snider's Sound Canada Studios. The album, simply titled Keep On Running, featured their debut single (recorded in December 1967), as well as a number of covers, including "Love-itis" (then making the rounds on the CHUM/RPM charts for scene-mates "The Mandala), a pair of Otis Redding covers in "Respect" and "Sad Song," The Beatles "Day Tripper," Wilson Pickett's "99½," the Mar-Keys "Grab This Thing" and a 7-minute version of Bobby Gentry's "Ode To Billie Joe."
The album release saw "Keep On Running" briefly re-enter the charts but it was short lived. A few months later Marco, Kennedy, Smith and Stone left to form Motherlode, again staggering the band. The foursome was quickly replaced by drummer Sonny “Jiggs” Bernardi, keyboardist Joseph Chirowski and bassist Joe Agnello (who was currently doubling as bassist of Leigh Ashford). This left the band without a guitarist, but they quickly adapted and got back onto the live circuit. This lineup managed to stay together until February 1970, when Sonny “Jiggs” Bernardi and keyboardist Joseph Chirowski left to join Ronnie Hawkins' band; then eventually formed Crowbar.
One final line-up was put together with Frank De Felice on drums, but it lasted less than a month with Frank going on to form Jericho; their final show was in Oshawa that March.
With that, Grant Smith and The Power officially called it quits. Many of the members went on to success with other groups. Val Stevens moved away to the U.K. to pursue music and Ralph Miller got out of the business altogether. Grant Smith relocated to Las Vegas rebranding the group as a new "Revue act" with new players. Here, they had a successful run playing nightly to "standing rooms." Grant also helped choreograph shows for other acts, and after five to six years abroad returned to Toronto in 1976. He dabbled in session and jingle work for a few years before establishing an ill-fated new version of his show band revue act that lasted until the 1990's.
WRITTEN & RESEARCHED BY: AARON LUSCH