One of Canada’s first powerhouse R&B performers, Ellis Grant Smith was born and raised in London, Ontario. By 1966, his group Zeke & The Moonshiners had run its course, and being an early alt-country outfit, it wasn’t fitting in with the direction he wanted his career to go in. He formed E G Smith and The Express, which quickly gained a reputation around southern Ontario for its live energy, adding a new dimension to rhythm and blues.
Meanwhile, Eddie Spencer had been fired from his band, Eddie Spencer & The Power, as were guitarist Les Morris and Jerry Mann on sax. So the following January, Smith, along with his bandmates guitarist Jim Pauley and Wayne Stone as a second drummer joined. Along with bassist Mike Harrison, drummer Charlie Miller, his brother Ralph on trumpet, Brian Ayres (replacing Mann) on sax, and Val Stevens on organ, this lineup remained intact until that summer, playing the Toronto clubs as EG Smith & The Power.
They changed their name, and after trimming down to one drummer following Miller’s exit, they spent a couple of months in the US. While there, Tony Orlando helped the group land a deal with MGM Records. Upon returning to Toronto, Pauley quit, replaced that September by Jon Palma. With producer John C Irvine, they released a cover of The Spencer Davis Group’s “Keep On Running” b/w the Smith/Stevens song, “Her Own Life” the next January. They followed it up with a pair of tracks written by Allan Rain – “Thinkin About You” with “You Got What I Want” as the b-side, and like its predecessor, it cracked the top 20 in the local market.
They returned to Sound Canada Studios in Toronto to work on their first full-length album, but Palma left soon afterwards. Ayers recommended Kenny Marco, who he’d played with in The Beau Keys a few years earlier and who’d recently departed The Upset. It wasn’t long before Steve Kennedy, who’d done time with Dianne Brooks, Eric Mercury, and The Soul Searchers was added on sax, although he’d played on the singles’ sessions prior to that. Things really took off, and they opened for The Hollies and Spanky & Our Gang on their Toronto dates, and returning Stateside, opened for Janis Joplin, Traffic, and Rare Earth.
But by October, 1968, several members began leaving – first Harrison left to join McKenna Mendelson Mainline. Stevens also followed out the door, and on Kennedy’s urging, was replaced by William Smith, who he’d played with for awhile in The Soul Searchers.
With this revised line-up, the remainder of the recordings were finished up, and KEEP ON RUNNING was released in the fall of ’68. A collection of hard-hitting R&B and a fusion of soul and funk, it featured the original version of the title track, as well as covers of The Mandala‘s “Loveitis” and The Beatles’ “Day Tripper.” The seven minutes-plus epic, “Ode To Billy Joe” also gave the individual parts of the group to show off their specific, and combined skills.
But by early the following spring, things in the dressing room began spiralling out of control, and members started looking for the exit door again. First out were Marco, Stone, Kennedy, and Wlliam Smith, who left to form Motherlode. The void was filled by new drummer Sonny Bernardi (ex The Spirit Revue), Josef Chirowski (ex of The Mandala and The Power Project, among others), and guitarist Joe Agnello (ex of Lords of London), but this only lasted until February 1970.
Bernardi and Chirowski left to join Ronnie Hawkins‘ new project, And Many Others, then eventually formed Crowbar. Agnello meanwhile left to join Leigh Ashford. New drummer Frank De Felice came on board briefly, including the band’s final performance in Oshawa, Ontario that March, then left to form Jericho.
Smith later relocated to Las Vegas, where he formed a cover band for a few years, and also helped choreograph shows for other acts. After returning to Toronto in the mid ’70s, he dabbled in session and jingle work for a few years, then established an ill-fated new version of his showband revue act in the early ’90s.