When your father hands you a pair of drumsticks at the age of four, chances are you’ll wind up a drummer. Paul Tillman Smith’s father, George Smith (Kansas City Smitty) played drums during the big band era with many well-known bands including Count Basie, Trummer Young and the Harlem Aces. He was also a mentor to singer Pearl Bailey‘s husband drummer Louie Bellson.
At age fifteen at the urging of his mother Della, Paul began playing the piano. It was soon after that he began to write simple three chord songs like the ones he would hear on the radio. This love has lasted a lifetime.
Paul has published over a hundred songs to date including the Pharaoh Sanders and Phyllis Hyman jazz pop classic “As You Are”, the Norman Connors and Jean Carne hit “Stella” featuring guitarist Lee Ritenour, and the tender love ballad “ Heavenly”, recorded by pianist Webster Lewis featuring vocalist DJ Rogers, saxophonist Benny Maupin. “Heavenly” also featured strings by Herbie Hancock and was performed by the Boston Pop Symphony for nationally syndicated TV. Paul’s album “Sharing” from his middle seventies Buddha Records recording group Vitamin E., featured The Sly Stone & Frank Zappa vocalist Lady Bianca and saxophonist Jules Broussard’s vocalist David Gardener.
The “Sharing” album was produced by Norman Connors and the single from that album with a special guest appearance by vocal legend Freddie Hughes and composed by Paul, became a number one hit in over twelve cities across the nation. In the ninety’s, the Vitamin E. CD was reissued in Japan as a double CD which also featured vocalist Melba Moore’s biggest selling CD “This is It”. Paul’s CD “Crying for Love” was voted record of the year by Blues and Soul magazines in England in 2001. The CD featured never released demos recorded at Fantasy Studio’s by his early eighty’s Bang CBS recording group “Bridge”. The CD was released by the U.K. record label “First Experience Records” and featured fourteen original songs by Paul with co-arrangements by Ronnie Laws keyboardist Michael “Spiderman” Robinson. Also featured were former Motown recording artists Derrick Hughes and Debra Von Lewis. The European critic’s called the Bridge CD a brilliant rare American discovery. Paul song “Higher Power” recently won a national contest sponsored by Tyler Perry, Lions Gate Film’s, BET, and Pastor Marvin Winan’s, for the best inspirational song and video of the year as sung by American Idol finalist Donnie Williams. Paul is also one of the first to record Sheila E, Rosie Gaines and Bonnie Boyer of Prince fame. The artist H.E.R. aka Gabi Wilson got her start at ten years old performing in Paul’s Band. She performed untill the age of twelve and was performing with Paul at a politicl event the evening she was offered the opportunity to perform on the Maury Povich Show. That opportunity lead her to the Good Morning America Show which is where she was discovered by Alicia Keys, Will Smith and Jamie Foxx.
Paul considers his biggest contribution to the Bay Area music scene as being the co-founder along with South Berkeley Merchant R.D. Bonds of the Berkeley Juneteenth Festival, the longest running African American Arts and Music festival in Northern California history. Paul was the artistic director for twenty two years. Sadly, after the death of RD Bonds Paul was ousted from the festival by someone he bought in to help him. Paul was also the first to promote free music concerts in Berkeley’s Provo Park and Oakland’s Mosswood Park in the seventies and eighties when he was a music and concert supervisor for “ACNAP”, The Alameda County Neighborhood Arts Program. Paul’s band “Bridge” is the only band in Bay Area history to be on the county pay roll other than the Oakland Symphony. Paul has been the stage manager for the Richmond Juneteenth, the Oakland Port Festival. the Laurel District World Music Festival, and the Vallejo 4th of July Festival. He also put the music program together for the city of Emeryville’s Appreciation Day Festival and helped put the city of Berkeley’s Artspark Festival and 100th Anniversary Arts and Music Celebration music program together and managed both stages. Paul is also working with the San Francisco and Oakland Juneteenth’s doing some booking, providing sound and back line.
Paul has also done some work in theater and film. He was the musical director for Melvin Van Peeple’s “Ain’t Supposed To Die A Natural Death” directed by Ted Lange of “Love Boat” and Band Director for “America More Or Less”, the Bi-Centennial Play of San Francisco, featuring works by playwrighters Imamu Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), Frank Chin and American Indian playwright Leslie Silko. While a senior in the Rhetoric Department at U.C. Berkeley, Paul made the Oakland Tribune’s front-page headlines for songs he and the late Lonnie Hewitt (Cal Tjader’s pianist) wrote for the Off Broadway play “Dunbar” based on the writings of poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar. “Dunbar” later won Paul the prestigious New York Audelco Theater Award, the highest honor in African American theater putting Paul in an elite club, which includes Denzel Washington and Felicia Rashaad. Paul’s composition “ A Hymn” (Gently Lord and Slow) from “Dunbar” was performed with full orchestra in a salute to Harry Belafonte at The Black Film Makers Hall of Fame Awards the following year. Paul wrote music for two one act plays by Cal Berkeley Professor and Author Cecil Brown and award winning Author Ismael Reed at the Julian Morgan Theater and wrote music for Cecil’s movie short entitled “Two Fer”.
Paul’s songs are also showcased in the feature film the “Tears of a Clown”, produced by Tony Spires. Tony promotes the annual Comedy Competition at the Paramount Theater. His movie features famous BET comedian DC Curry and several other rising comic stars. Paul’s songs in the movie showcases the talents of former “Tower of Power” vocalist’s Lenny Williams, the late Bonnie Boyer, Rosie Gaines, Freddie Hughes, Denise Stewart, Avis Nixon , American Idol finalist’s Donnie Williams and La Toya London. Paul’s music also includes performances by saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, pianist Herman Jackson, Eric Daniels, Donald Tavie, Michael Stanton and Edell Shepard, guitarist’s Calvin Keys, Juewette Bostick and Carl Lockett and bassist Nelson Braxton who is also co-producer of several songs along with Norman Connors.
Paul Tillman Smith’s first professional drumming gig was with Blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins at the Continental Club playing opposite of Otiis Redding in West Oakland. He was seventeen years old. At the age of eighteen he joined the rock group “The Second Coming”, which included Steve Miller and musicians who later split up and became two historical groups, “The Steve Miller Band” and “Country Joe and the Fish”. Both groups sought Paul’s services, but he chose instead to go to New York where he played and recorded with Avante Garde Jazz musicians Sonny Simmons and Albert Ayler, the later considered to be a founding father of the Avante Garde Jazz Era, along with John Coltrane. While in New York he also performed with Jackie MacLean, Archie Schepp, Kenny Dorham and Pharaoh Sanders. On his return to the Bay Area, Paul performed and recorded with award winning Jazz Violinist Michael White on the Impulse. ABC. Paramount Label. That band featured the legendary pianist Ed Kelly and percussionist Kenneth Nash. George Duke has also produced and performed on one of Pauls compositions titled “We Don’t Eat No Meat”.
Paul has had the honor of performing or recording with many music legends including the Sonny Simmons, Bobby Hutcherson and John Handy Quartets, Alice Coltrane, Azure McCall, Joe Henderson, Jimmy Mc Cracklin, Richard Pryor, Etta James, Jon Hendricks, Marlena Shaw, Abbey Lincoln, Dewey Redman, Faye Carol, Harold Land, Lorez Alexander, Odia Coates, The Head Hunters, Erma Thomas, Cold Blood, Jon Faddis, Bobby Lyle, Gary Bartz, Reggie Lucas, Azteca, Rodney Franklin, Carlos Santana, Michael Henderson, The Brecker Brothers, Sylvestor, Jeannie Tracy, Mtume, Sylvestor, Big Momma Thornton, Eddie Henderson, Rashaan Roland Kirk, Julian Priester, Buddy Connor, Angela Bofill, Johnny Talbert, Junie Booth. Woody Shaw, Martin Fierro, Ollie Woodson, Pete Escovedo, Ray Obiedo and Merl Saunders and many more. Paul was one of the first drummers chosen to audition for Jimi Hendrix’s new band, “The Band of Gypsies”. Jimi heard tapes of Paul playing in New York with Bassist Percussionist Juma Sultan and offered to send for Paul to come to Woodstock to audition. Thelonius Monk and Herbie Hancock also sought out Paul’s drumming skills. At seventeen Paul auditioned for the gig to play with “Sly and the Family Stone” .
Recently Paul was the drum instructor for Oak Town Jazz Workshops. Paul’s achievements have been a source of inspiration and creativity for numerous musicians. He ran three longe running Jazz jam sessions in the history of the Bay Area, Harry’s on University in Berkeley plus jam session’s at Ivy’s and Bluesville in Jack London Square. He provided a venue for young and old musicians alike to sit in and jam and no musician no matter how they played was ever turned away. He recently produced “The Big Belly Blues Band’s” first CD for his label Chumpchange Records composing six of their original songs. “Big Belly”, a twelve-piece band with four horns consisted of prominent jazz musicians in the Bay Area including the late vocalist George Hubbard, pianist Ed Kelly, trumpeter Khalil Shaheed . The group also included Earl “Fatha” Hines bassist Harley White and Oakland Tribune Editor and Rapper Martin “ Ho Flow” Reynolds. His song “Nobody’s Home” recorded by blues legend Sugar Pie DeSanto was recently named a blues breaker by the national syndicated house of blues radio network. Paul recently completed work on the first CD, “just Like Magic” the Maxi-Single “The Power”, and video “Higher Power” by American Idol finalist Donnie Williams and his band “Park Place”. Donnie’s CD’s also features vocals by Donnie’s youngest sister Terrell Williams and top American Idol finalist Latoya London, who was recently on tour with Oprah Winfrey’s “Color Purple”. Paul is currently producing a new Big Belly Blues Band CD with long time Prince Bassist Levi Seacer.
Paul Tillman Smith