Legendary songwriter/keyboard player, in the music scene of the sixties, seventies and eighties, William Daniel "Smitty" Smith was known for his work with historic Canadian band Motherlode, his own solo albums and collaborations with iconic musicians suchs as Bob Dylan, Roberta Flack, Bonnie Raitt, Rod Stewart, Billy Joel, Richie Havens and Etta James.
The Virginia-born Smitty, who had been playing, in the states, since the age of 15, joined the Canadian music scene in the early 1960's. He was first known for his work with the Soul Searchers, a band fronted by Eric Mercury and Diane Brooks including Steve Kennedy, Eric "Mouse" Johnson and Terry Logan. Following the break-up of that group, Steve Kennedy, and then Smitty, joined Grant Smith and The Power. The quartet of Smitty, Marco (Bar-Kays, Upset), Kennedy and Stone splintered from the nine-piece showband having grown tired of performing material by others. They formed Motherlode in 1969 and moved to the isolation of London, Ontario so they could pursue their own original tunes. They starved and stayed with friends but finally caught a break, after their debut at the Image Club, when Mort Ross signed them to Revolver/Compo Records that yearTheir first single, "When I Die", was produced by Doug Riley and Terry Brown and failed to make a splash on radio. However, the band's reciprocal deal in the US with Neil Bogart's Buddah Records made the song a #18 hit. With the song selling upwards of 500, 000 copies it eventually made it to Canadian charts (reaching #5) and causing RPM magazine to declare them Canada's first Supergroup. Their debut album, also called "When I Die" also featured the Top-30 hit "Memories Of A Broken Promise".
With a hit record under his belt, in 1971, Smitty planned to move to Los Angeles to pursue a solo career. Influential friends like David Foster, David Clayton Thomas (Blood Sweat and Tears) and Dominic Troiano (Three Dog Night) believed there were more opportunities for Smitty in L.A. Once in California, he was quickly welcomed and worked with Etta James, David Foster, Richie Havens and Crosby, Stills and Nash among others.
The sessions Smitty did with such legends in the business allowed him the opportunity to gain solo record deals of his own. In 1975, Smitty was signed to Warner Bros and completed his first solo album "A Good Feelin'". Smitty was paired with New Orleans R&B music god Allen Toussaint to record the album. Smitty brought in half the songs on the LP, three of which he co-wrote with Eric Mercury and two with David Clayton Thomas. Toussaint composed the others, as well as arranging and producing all the tracks. In 1978 his sophmore effort was "Smitty" for A&M records. On that album, Smitty recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio with the creme de le creme of session musicians, The Swampers (The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section).
Throughout the 1980's Smitty continued to do session work and tour with great artists like Tracy Chapman, Linda Ronstandt, Maurice White, Jackson Browne, Bruce Willis, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner and The Pointer Sisters while also writing and composing original music for known artists and film.
After suffering a stroke on New Year's Day 1992, Smitty's supporters and friends, including Jackson Browne, Graham Nash and Bonnie Raitt staged a benefit performance for Smitty at the Palace in Hollywood. During this period, Smitty began writing poetry and published his memoirs,"A Stroke Of Luck". On Nov. 26 1997, Smitty died in Sherman Oaks of a heart attack.
Since Smitty's death, Motherlode's music has sparked interest from a new generation of music lovers with covers and samples by many including D'Angelo, Neneh Cherry, Gangstarr, DJ Premier and J Dilla. In 2000, Motherlode's "When I Die" received the SOCAN "Classic" Award and in 2011, "When I Die" was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Sources: Canoe.com, The Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia, Dan Phillips, AllMusic.com, Dr. Patricia Grizzle-Huling.