Clarence Smith: Aylmer supports a cherished musician
Who would have thought, 42 years ago, when he was touring with the show band, Half Moon, out of Philadelphia, that he would have to learn how to walk again? Who would have known, that 28 years ago, when he was writing music for Alanis Morrisette, that he’d have to learn how to speak again? Who would have guessed, that just last year when he was packing The British with his funk band, Destiny, that he would have to learn to play bass again? No one did, especially not Clarence Smith.
Clarence Smith, originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, just outside of Phili, has been a fixture on the club circuit here in the Gatineau/Ottawa area for over 28 years. One of his first gigs was right here in Aylmer at the old Club 61 on rue Principale. At the time he was sharing an apartment with Kelly Craig, and Steve Groves, two very prominent local musicians. The owner of Club 61 was a drummer and he hired all three of them to play at the club every week with him on the kit. The band, Bird’s Isle, had that gig for over 3 years. This was in the early ‘90’s. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
In 1978 Clarence was living in Lancaster Pennsylvania and was touring with the show band Half Moon, playing funky dance music complete with choreography and costume changes. His first taste of Canada was when he came to Quebec with the band. After playing in Montreal, Quebec City, and throughout the Laurentiens, he settled in St. Jerome. He got married there but eventually ended up in Ottawa in 1989, and finally Aylmer. He ended up loving this area and decided to stay here.
Clarence started recording and gigging around town. He crossed paths Zeek Gross. Not a hard thing to do. Zeek, a fixture on sax with The Tony D Band, is a first call session player in this area. One of the best. Clarence recruited Zeek for one of his recording projects and they became fast friends. “He’s the funkiest guy in the city. It’s a natural thing for him” Zeek says of his old friend and colleague. Zeek goes on to mention that “Dave Hubenig and him were an amazing pair”. Dave is a drummer. Drummers need bassists, and bassists need drummers.
It was around this same time, 1992, that Dave met Clarence when The Mighty Popo hired him to play a gig at the parliament buildings. This started a lasting relationship that has gone on to this day. Both Clarence and Dave continued to play with The Mighty Popo for many years. Dave has nothing but accolades for his good friend. “Clarence is a ball of positive energy and a super hero. We’ve always had a connection. For a rhythm section, we’re joined somehow. We both just play, and give it our all. We’re there for the music, and when we’re playing it’s a thousand percent whether there’s anyone there or not. We just connect musically. We’re a good team”
Like all great musicians, Clarence was in demand. In 2007 Clarence started playing with the Hammerheads to critical acclaim. The Hammerheads had already made a name for themselves in the market as one of the best funky party bands on the scene. So when they needed a bassist, Clarence was the first call. Around this same time the Hammerheads needed a new lead singer too and they recruited Iyono Ede, one of Ottawa’s premier songstress’. They became fast friends and colleagues. By 2013 the Hammerheads were at the end of their life cycle but Clarence still had to lay down the funk. Clarence formed a new band, which he named Destiny and Iyono followed Clarence to Destiny. Iyono says, “I don’t think I have ever seen Clarence angry. He is always level, always generous, always caring, always excited. Definitely excited about his music. Clarence and his big goofy grin. He’s still got some music in him.” Destiny is now a staple on the club circuit in Gatineau and Ottawa playing funk and dance hits that fill the dance floor from the first note.
Now we get to the current story. On January 12 Clarence had a blood clot detach from his heart and move through his body, to his brain. He suffered a stroke, which almost killed him and left him just an image of his formal self. He was put into an induced coma for a couple of weeks until things stabilized. Today Clarence spends his weekdays at a physical rehabilitation centre, and spends his weekends at home with his girlfriend Christiane. After working very hard with his physiotherapists for the last two months, Clarence is at about 90% on a physical level. Christiane says, “His mobility is great but he has lost a lot of muscle mass. He walks well and rides the bike daily. He works out in the gym twice a day and works daily with a speech therapist. He is singing songs from memory, and is playing guitar regularly.”
Clarence is lucky to be surrounded by his family, and his musical brother and sisterhood. He has been showered with love and attention but without disability insurance could use help paying his bills. Two benefit concerts were organized for Clarence, but have been postponed, like everything else. A social media fundraising campaign will be launched soon to help. Please join the chat group “We Love You Clarence” on Facebook Messanger to get more info on donating to the cause and for updates on his condition and future events.