PAT SMILLIE - "LAST CHANCE" (Fat Bank Music, 2021)
With “LAST CHANCE” (Fat Bank Music), Detroit-born songwriter Pat Smillie, has delivered an album built upon his open vision of soul, blues, and American roots music. The album showcases his ability to traverse a variety of genres including rock, blues, and soul, in a manner that is reminiscent of his earliest influences including Joe Cocker, Otis Redding, Delbert McClinton, and Detroit’s iconic soul rocker, Mitch Ryder. In addition, the album contains some of the strongest compositions of Smillie’s career - highlighting his gift for storytelling across an array of musical backdrops, including classic 50s - 60s r&b, early Detroit rock & roll, West side Chicago blues, and soul-kissed Americana.
Produced by Motor City Josh (a.k.a. Josh Ford) and Pat Smillie, “LAST CHANCE” is an album whose charms reveal themselves over repeated listenings. A rare document that captures the artist in creative bloom. Written and recorded entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, these songs are the glorious result of time well spent. PLAY THIS ALBUM LOUD & OFTEN!
“HEART IN A HEADLOCK” is a brass-driven, Motown-inspired thumper that features Keith Kaminski (saxophones) and Walter White (trumpet). At just over 3 minutes in duration, the song sounds as if it could have been written for The Four Tops. “SOMETHING ON MY HEART” is a mid-tempo ballad reminiscent of Otis Clay’s early 70’s tenure on Hi Records. The primary difference being that the song’s warm Memphis-style backbeat eventually slips into an extended, jazz-inflected groove with pianist Evan Mercer and guitarist Johnny Rhoades trading licks as the track fades. Beautiful. “BROKE DOWN CHEVY #2” is a slow-rolling, low-down, funky blues that features legendary Detroit guitarist Jim McCarty (of The Detroit Wheels and CACTUS). At age 75, McCarty proves that he can still peel the paint off the walls. Smillie’s lyrics, as always, are laced with good humor. “LAST CHANCE” features Motor City Josh on slide guitar and a syncopated New Orleans groove. It’s a nod to the late Lowell George of Little Feat. The lyric tells the story of a desperate man trying hard to hold on to a love that has long since left the building. “JOSEPHINE” is a swampy, atmospheric piece, full of mystery. Smillie’s lyric sets up the narrative but leaves the storyline open to interpretation. Long-time backing vocalists Tina Howell and Ashley Stevenson bring their talents to the mix. “DRINKIN’ & DRUGGIN’” is a ****-kickin’ slab of rock & roll detailing Smillie’s long road to hard-won sobriety. Jason Bone and Brendon Linsley (both members of Smillie’s touring band) are featured on guitars. “NAE NAE (MONTH OF SUNDAYS)” is a Wilson Pickett-inspired rocker that opens with a strong backbeat from drummer Todd Glass and a funky bassline from bassist Chris Smith. The energy is infectious and undeniable! Finally, on the closer “ALL THE WAY IN MY CORNER” echoes of the late Ray Charles can be heard in Smillie’s vocal. When he sings “She’s the cream, and the sugar, and the coffee in my cup. She’s the ONLY reason I’m still waking up”, he’s acknowledging that her love is at the cornerstone of his life. It’s REAL!
PAT SMILLIE - "LAST CHANCE" (Fat Bank Music, 2021)
CHICAGO BLUES GUIDE (APRIL 2021)
- Linda Cain
Pat Smillie is a one-man Blues, Soul and Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival. Sweat, soul and passion ooze out of every pore each time the Detroit native performs – which is not surprising given that Smillie spent his formative years in Chicago where he paid his dues in rough joints like the Checkerboard Lounge learning from the masters.
He moved to Chicago in 1992 to attend grad school at Loyola University, but after three years his studies “derailed” in favor of the lessons he was taught in the South and West Side blues clubs, where he religiously attended shows by Magic Slim, Big James & The Chicago Playboys, Vance Kelly & the Backstreet Blues Band, Melvina Allen, Chick Rodgers and more.
Vance Kelly nurtured the budding singer/songwriter/performer by letting him sit in every night for 2 1/2 years at the Checkerboard Lounge. “Vance was very generous with his stage time and offered me great advice about working the stage. He always made sure the band played my songs as well as his own,” Smillie recalls fondly. This led to a Wednesday night residency in 1996 for Smillie’s own band at the club which lasted 1 ½ years. Robert Plant and Arny Granat of Jam Productions attended one of Smillie’s shows there and were hugely impressed. Jam Productions booked Smillie to open for acts like Dan Aykroyd & Jim Belushi, Robert Cray and Bob Seger (at a sold out show of 18,000 at the All-State Arena in Rosemont, IL).
Smillie’s affiliation with Kelly exposed him to Soul Blues royalty Tyrone Davis and Otis Clay, who saw him perform and were also impressed. “They were VERY gracious and supportive of my efforts,” Smillie notes. Tyrone booked Smillie’s band at his club in late 1995 and Otis called him up to sing on stage at Rosa’s Lounge where he was spotted by festival promoters. Smillie and his band played Chicago Blues Festival in 2003 and 2005; they also went on tour across Eastern Europe in 2011. “It was a dream come true,” he reminisced.
After 23 years in Chicago, Smillie reevaluated his career and made the decision to move back to Detroit in 2015, where he was immediately hired by former Motown Records Funk Brother Dennis Coffey to sing at his weekly club residency. Smillie also hooked up with legendary Detroit guitarist Jim McCarty (founding member of Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels and Cactus), and began performing and recording with him.
In 2019 Smillie released an acclaimed six-song EP titled Lonesome For A Long Time, featuring some of Detroit’s finest joining him in the studio.
Smillie spent the 2020 Covid lockdown composing new songs; he and the session band hit the recording studio to create Last Chance, a sparkling new eight-song album that’s as shiny and revved-up as a Mustang just off the Motor City assembly line.
Smillie’s vocals are as powerful as a Ford pickup truck engine and so are the well-crafted original tunes. Smillie and Motor City Josh (a.k.a. Josh Ford) collaborated on the songwriting and production, which are top notch and a pleasure for the ears. Josh also contributes guitar and he is joined by many of the same players from the Lonesome sessions including: horn arranger and sax man Keith Kaminski, trumpeter Walter White, Evan Mercer on keys, guitarist Johnny Rhoades, backing vocalists Ashley Stevenson and Tina Howell, drummer/percussionist Todd Glass, and bassist Chris Smith. Guitarists Brendon Linsley and Jason Bone contribute to a couple tracks as well.
Last Chance kicks off with the Memphis soul overdrive of “Heart in a Headlock,” featuring a blazing horn section and an incessant beat that will get bodies movin’ and groovin’ on the dance floor. Smillie sings his heart out about a love he just can’t break away from.
“Something on My Heart” finds the horn players blowing smooth and mellow on this mid-tempo Al Green/Otis Clay style ballad. Smillie sings solemnly about heartaches that you know he’s lived through, as the “sweet soul sisters” comfort him with their harmonies. A groovy duet between pianist Mercer and guitarist Rhoades adds a special jazzy touch to this poetic tune.
Guitar great Jim McCarty makes a guest appearance to play lead on “Broke Down Chevy #2,” a reprise of Smillie’s signature song that he previously recorded on a 2006 release, Down By The River, from his days in Chicago. “I was a broke down Chevy/ Until she loved me like a Cadillac”; Smillie sings it with gravel in his voice and redemption in his soul, backed by McCarty’s tough, gritty guitar and a backbeat that’s so funky you can smell it (to borrow a phrase from Buddy Guy).
Smillie and crew take us down to New Orleans for the title track “Last Chance,” featuring hip-shakin’ Big Easy beats and Sonny Landreth-worthy slide guitar by Motor City Josh. “Tonight’s your last chance/ To fall in love with me” is the final plea to a longtime lover who is now giving him the cold shoulder.
“Josephine” has a cinematic, dreamy quality that recalls a misty bayou shrouded in mystery. Smillie weaves a tale about a duplicitous woman that is reminiscent of Levon Helm and The Band.
“Drinkin’ & Druggin’ ” is high octane rock ‘n’ roll about Smillie’s former hard livin’ lifestyle that was fun while it lasted, but nearly killed him. Having to spend “30 days locked up in Cook County” was the wakeup call that led to his sobriety.
Pat Smillie is a survivor; he’s been buried in the blues and lived to tell about it in his music. As a tunesmith, he is an expert storyteller who writes about personal, yet universal, truths that come straight from the heart. And with every word he sings, Smillie gives us a little piece of his heart. The musicians he has aligned with in Motor City are the perfect fit for this talented artist’s songs that can move both your body and your soul.
PAT SMILLIE - "LONESOME FOR A LONG TIME" (2019)
BIG CITY RHYTHM & BLUES MAGAZINE (Dec 2019/Jan 2020)
- Bob Monteleone (U.S.A.)
"Pat Smillie is a Detroit-based soul/blues singer who performs with his own band as well as with guitarists Jim McCarty (Detroit Wheels, Cactus) and Dennis Coffey (Motown session luminary). Originally from Detroit, Smillie earned a reputation as a powerhouse vocalist on the Chicago blues scene, including a residency at the legendary Checkerboard Lounge. Relocating back to the Motor City in 2015, he hooked up with the esteemed guitarist, bandleader, and producer Josh Ford (aka Motor City Josh). Lonesome For A Long Time is Smillie’s first release in ten years, a six-song EP filled to the brim with full productions, four of which feature Keith Kaminski’s (Bob Seger) horn arrangements. Produced by Ford (who plays bass on the recording) and Smillie at Ford’s Sound Shop Studio, all of the songs are originals, mostly co-written by Smillie and Ford. Smillie is kind of a northern version of Delbert McClinton, effortlessly handling blues, rock, and soul styles in the vein of Joe Cocker, Mitch Ryder, and classic soul singers Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. The catchy “Ain’t No Doubt About That” starts things off with a bouncy Motown groove, with the ever-present horns punctuating the accents with back-up vocals from Tina Howell and Ashley Stevenson, who sweeten five of the tracks. The title track is built on a strong early 70s Memphis backbeat and sounds like it could have come off a classic Bob Seger or (gulp!) Kid Rock album. Nice solo by guitarist Johnny Rhoades. “Boulder City Breakdown” is a vehicle for guest Jim McCarty, who takes us back to his Rockets days, dueling pianist Evan Mercer with his trademark riffs. The EP closes with the gut-wrenching “Ray Charles Records” as Smillie finds his ex’s old LPs and takes a painful walk down memory lane, with Motor City Josh contributing some emotional slide guitar. As always, ace drummer Todd Glass never disappoints, handling the various grooves and styles with ease. Lonesome For a Long Time is a satisfying, if brief (no filler!), collection of well-written and produced songs with heart-tugging lyrics sung from deep down in the soul.
BLUES MUSIC MAGAZINE (Winter 2020)
- A.J. Wachtel (U.S.A)
"He comes from the Joe Cocker school of singing - a throaty, take-no-prisoners, powerhouse voice bursting with passion and preaching...a masterful and soulful r&b vocalist."
BLUES MATTERS MAGAZINE (Oct/Nov 2019)
- Adrian Blacklee (U.K.)
"This six-track EP includes all self-written material by Detroit-based powerhouse vocalist Pat Smillie. While he has a powerful voice, there are also plenty of subtle soulful elements included and together this creates a very warm vibrant sound. Pat was raised in Detroit where his early influences were the Motor City artists that included the Temptations, Wilson Picket, and Bob Seger. He has fused these styles into his trademark sound which is solid soulful blues aided by good quality songs and a full backing band that includes some cracking horn playing arranged by Keith Kaminski. He has dedicated this mini-album to his inspirations; Joe Cocker, Chuck Berry, Otis Clay, and Dennis Edwards, all of these artists influences can be clearly heard on this album.