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Not much of a punk rocker

Paul Smith says he never really fit into the metal scene. The Morinville musician spent most of the 1990s banging heads and rocking the bass in various metal, polka and country bands throughout Alberta. But he didn't seem to fit in.
MUSIC MAN –Musician
MUSIC MAN –Musician

Paul Smith says he never really fit into the metal scene.

The Morinville musician spent most of the 1990s banging heads and rocking the bass in various metal, polka and country bands throughout Alberta.

But he didn't seem to fit in. While his bandmates were getting sloshed at the bar, he would be taking his vitamin supplements and reading about herbology. "I kind of learned it was a different species of human that could do road life for life," he says.

Soon, he decided to return to his true love, teaching music, in Morinville. "Music is an emotional experience," he says, "and we learn from emotion."

Smith, 37, is a strange mix of punk rocker and businessman. Seeing him in the converted garage that is his business, Smith Music, your brain kind of slips gears as you take in the head-banger hair, immaculate suit and the green parrot climbing atop the nearby birdcage.

That's Ryland, he explains. "The bird is the boss."

Smith is exactly what he looks like, says friend and town fire chief Ron Cust. "He's a hard rocker … but he's also a businessman."

He describes Smith as a gentle man with a keen eye for business and a hidden passion that comes out in his love of performance and community. "It's almost an anger that jumps out of him into his fingers when he starts to perform," he says.

"Sometimes I wonder if he's not a pirate from another age," he quips, referring to the hair and the bird. "He just needs an eye-patch over one eye and we'd call him Captain Paul."

Smith has an uncanny knack for asking those questions everyone is thinking, but is too chicken to ask, says his wife, Henriette.

"He has this immense drive to do," she says. "If he sees there's a job to be done and nobody's doing it, he'll say, 'Well, I'll do it.' "

That keeps him very busy, she notes, and he often works from six in the morning to nine at night. "It's rare that we have a night off together." About the only time he really relaxes is when they go camping.

Even then, Smith says he usually hauls out the portable recording studio and works on new tunes. "My whole goal in life has been to think about music as much as possible and to do music as much as possible. It's my hobby and my everything."

Smith grew up in Bothwell, Ont., listening to organ and gospel music in church. He recalls listening to his mother play the piano when he was four. "I leaned my back against the piano and I could just feel the music all around. That's kind of when I knew music was magical for me."

Something of a child prodigy, Smith says he started teaching music when he was 12. He gained a reputation as a bass player, and soon started playing for local bands.

Moving to Edmonton around 1990, he soon dropped out of high school and hit the road full time.

This led to some strange encounters such as the time the band's frontman got on stage and started yelling at him non-stop during a performance.

"I started to realize that this was going to go on all night," Smith says. (He later learned that the frontman did this to all new band members.) "My solution was to turn everything into a bass solo, and I said, 'When you stop yelling, I'll stop soloing!' " And it worked, he adds.

Tired of the road life, Smith says he approached his brother, Kevin, around 1996 and got a teaching job at his brother's store in Morinville. The two later had a falling out, so Smith bought out his brother and moved Smith Music from the town's old convent to its current location.

"It's not typical to have a music shop this size in a town this size," Smith says. He's now determined to make his business last a generation. Previously just a music school, his company now sells instruments, manages bands and records albums in one of the biggest live performance studios in Western Canada.

Smith is also known as the chair of the Morinville Festival Society, which is currently organizing a series of public events to draw more tourists to town. He also offers scholarships, employs and assists up-and-coming musicians, and gives free technical support to many local concerts.

Smith is one of those super-volunteers you see at every community event, says Cust, who met him through their work on the St. Jean Baptiste Festival. "He totally loves Morinville," he says, and is always asking what he can bring to the community. "It's in his spirit and his heart."

Smith's industry connections and business savvy have helped bring big bands such as Loverboy and big sponsors such as Champion Petfoods to Morinville's festivals, Cust says, raising the town's profile. Cust credits Smith with bringing a sense of fun back to the town's festivals that had long been absent. "We've helped to build a community feel to our community."

Smith says he does what he does in part to create jobs for musicians and lifelong customers, but also to repay all the support Morinville has given him.

"People (here) have treated me like family," he says. "I want to give (them) everything I can because they've given me everything."

Paul Smith – Q&A

Your hair is awesome. How do you get such awesome hair?<br />“Refuse to cut it and have a wife who really knows hair product.”<br />
Greatest rocker ever?
“Jimmy Hendrix. He's the first guy who lit his guitar on fire! That's got to count for something.”<br />
If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
“Maple. It's Canadian, and it sounds phenomenal.”

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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