Paul Tillman Smith

Profile Updated: December 22, 2020
Residing In: oakland/Berkeley, CA USA
Spouse/Partner: Renee Tillman Smith
Homepage: View Website
Occupation: Festival Coordinator/Musician / Record Producer
Children: Naima Tenee Smith
School Story:

Flunked ninth grade at Oakland hi and had to go back to McChesney Jr High from Oakland High. Was the last year Oakland High had a ninth grade. Went to juvenile hall in tenth grade for fighting. Counselor tried to place me in the dumb classes early in the 11th grade. Later became the top school drummer in the 11th grade. Joined the Masquers elite club in the 12th. Was prevented from graduating with my class because i missed a rehearsal with the school symphony on purpose when music teacher Mr. Lord promised me i wouldn't graduate with my class if i missed the rehearsal and he was a man of his word. Some how a few years out of high school i made it into Cal Berkeley and i was the only ghetto rat from my gangsta group who did.
I worked at Oakland hi for a while as a gardener and the only thing left is the swimming pool and Mr. Lords music room.

Did you have a memorable or favorite teacher(s)?

Playing the piano in the dark school auditorium in that big auditorium all by myself when someone came in and told me President Kennedy had been assassinated. That memory is frozen in time. Playing the drums in the Jazz Band during assembly's hoping all the girls was watching me.


Big Belly Blues Band – 2015 release

Nobody’s Home, the much anticipated second CD by the Big Belly Blues Band, draws together the rich blues, soul, funk, and jazz traditions that have long made Oakland, California, a hotbed of innovation in African American music. Led by seasoned drummer, songwriter, and record producer Paul Tillman Smith –with former Prince guitarist Levi Seacer Jr. serving as co-producer this time around – the current edition of the BBBB is, like the original group, a truly all-star assemblage of many of the most gifted vocalists and instrumentalists ever associated with the Oakland scene, from veteran soul men Bobby Reed and Freddie Hughes to the young Terrell “Tootie” Williams.

Bookended by new treatments of two classics of Oakland soul – “Git Sum,” a late ‘60s Bay Area hit by the pioneering and still-active Oakland funk guitarist and bandleader Johnny Talbot, and the 1977 regional hit “Is It Me” by the late Cal Tjader pianist turned soul songwriter, producer, and singer Lonnie Hewitt – the 13-track Nobody’s Home presents 11 freshly minted tunes in the old-school tradition from the pens of Smith, Seacer, and Reed.

Named for the song “Big Belly Blues” by Smith and award-winning jazz and blues vocalist Faye Carol, the BBBB was formed in 2002 by Smith, pianist Ed Kelly, singer George Hubbard, bassist-trombonist Harley White, and trumpeter Khalil Shaheed. The band also featured Rapper and current Oakland Tribune editor Martin Reynolds. The band appeared at Yoshi’s and Sweet’s Ballroom in Oakland, among other venues, prior to the deaths of Kelly, Hubbard, and Shaheed. Nobody’s Home includes a revised version of “Big Belly Blues” with new vocals by TMarvin Williams but with Kelly’s piano solo retained from the original recording.

Born in Oakland in 1947, the son of a jazz drummer, Paul Tillman Smith has long distinguished himself as one of the most valuable and versatile participants in the Northern California music scene. His contributions as a drummer, songwriter, bandleader, record producer, and event producer have remained undiminished since the time, at age 15, he made his professional debut backing bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins at the Continental Club in West Oakland.

Besides recording as a sideman with such jazz greats as saxophonist Sonny Simmons, violinist Michael White, and fellow drummer Smiley Winters, the Berkeley-based musician has led and produced albums by four world-class bands since the mid-1970a – Vitamin E, Bridge, and currently Park Place and the Big Belly Blues Band – that have featured a succession of remarkable singers, including Lady Bianca, David Gardner, Freddie Hughes and his son Derrick, Debra Von Lewis, Bonnie Boyer, Latoya London, and Donnie Williams.

Like his friend and mentor Lonnie Hewitt, Smith brings a jazz musician’s sophistication to writing and producing R&B music. “A lot of my tunes have serious chord changes,” says Smith, who has written and published over 100 original compositions. In addition to songs performed by his own groups, his tunes have been recorded by, among others, Pharoah Sanders and Phyllis Hyman (“As You Are”), Norman Connors and Jean Carne (“Stella”), and Webster Lewis and D.J. Rogers (“Heavenly”). Smith and Hewitt wrote music for the 1980 off-Broadway musical Dunbar, winner of the prestigious AUDELCO Award. Smith also composed a dozen songs for the 2005 Tony Spires motion picture Tears of a Clown starring Don “D.C.” Curry.

Levi Seaser Jr., the Richmond, California-based co-producer who plays guitar and bass, write arrangements for, and sings on Nobody’s Home, brings a firm grounding in gospel,, R&B, and jazz to the BBBB. In addition to working with Prince for eight years, first as a bassist, then as a guitarist, his extensive resume includes stints with Rosie Gaines and Sheila E. He’s been performing of late with Jody Whatley, Sons of the Soul Revivers, Tony Toni Tone, saxophonist Rick Alexander, and his aunt, gospel great Dorothy Morrison of “Oh Happy Day” renown. His credits as a producer, co-producer, and/or songwriter include Prince, The Time, Sounds of Blackness, the Pointer Sisters, and Gerald Alston. Seacer is featured vocally on three tracks of Nobody’s Home: “Get Sum,” “High School Lovers,” and the title song.

“Levi is the best guitar player I ever heard around here,” says Smith, who first worked with Seacer on 2013’s Bed Ballads, a compilation of 15 of the drummer’s best love songs as sung by Freddie Hughes, Phyllis Hyman, Avis Nixon, Lenny Williams, Donnie Williams, Tootie Williams, TMarvin Williams, Michael Cheadle, Chris Fields, Vincent Lars, and Martin Luther. Bed Ballads and the BBBB’s Nobody’s Home are both available on Smith’s Chump Change label, as are earlier releases by Bridge and Park Place.

“I couldn’t have done Nobody’s Home without Levi,” Smith adds. “That experience he had with Prince was absolutely necessary to do this record. Even though this is more of a ‘70s-type record, he was able to clean the tracks up, make them simple, and do all kinds of phenomenal arrangement to the songs. He even wrote some of the horn lines. When we had the horn players in the studio, he was able to invent stuff on the spot.”

Nobody’s Home, like all of Smith’s previous record projects, features a variety of vocalists, each especially selected to best complement individual songs. “I’m always looking for singers who look like they would have a shot, even if I’m not the one that gets them out there in the final analysis,” Smith says.

TMarvin Williams is featured on six songs on Nobody’s Home. He solos on “Big Belly Blues,” “Too Much,” “Country Flower,” and “Back Here Again” and joins Seacer and Shema Bellamy vocally on “Git Sum” and Seacer and Freddie Hughes on the title track “There’s nobody who can beat him in live performance,” Smith says of Williams, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania native who since 2005 has been touring with the Persuaders, the soul vocal group best known for the 1971 smash “Thin Line Between Love and Hate.”

The album reunites Smith with singing bassist Bobby Reed. The two men had first written a song together for a 1970 Columbia album by Sweet Apple, a short-lived band in which Reed was a member before the Whispers hired him as their bass player. The Tulsa-born musician came to Oakland as a teenager and played with Eugene Blacknell and the New Breed before joining the Right Kind, a self-contained (vocal and instrumental) band that scored a national hit in 1968 with “(Tell Me) Why Do You Have to Lie” featuring Reed’s robust lead vocal. With the BBBB Reed sings his own compositions “The Joint” and “Be with Me” and also plays bass on those two songs and a number of other tracks.

Nobody’s Home also reunites Smith with David Gardner, who had been co-lead singer of Vitamin E, a Smith-led band that recorded a Norman Connors-produced album titled Sharing for Buddah Records in 1977. Born in Galveston, Texas, and bred in San Francisco, Gardner had recorded with recorded with Donnel Hickman’s San Francisco Inspirational Choir and performed with saxophonist Jules Broussard’s popular band early in his career. He later fell on hard times and, although now thankfully back on his feet, was homeless for a period, making him an ideal choice for the Smith song “The Hobo.”

Terrell “Tootie” Williams, born 27 years ago in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and presently based in Los Angeles, sang with her older brother, onetime American Idol finalist Donnie Williams, on the 2007 Park Place album Just Like Magic. On Nobody’s Home she sings lead on “Before You Know” and the provocative “One Summer Night. “

Singing alongside Seacer and TMarvin Williams on “Git Sum” and contributing background vocals to other tracks is Shema Bellamy, the daughter of Smith’s best friend from high school. She made her initial mark on records doing the lead singing on the 1999 Bay Area hip-hop hit “Wide Open” by Mac Mall. “She reminds me of Etta James,” Smith says of Bellamy. “She’s just Oakland all the way.”

Longtime Smith associate Freddie Hughes joins Seacer and TMarvin Williams vocally on “Nobody’s Home.” The Berkeley-born singer scored a national hit in 1968 with the Lonnie Hewitt penned-and-produced ballad “Send Me Back” and nine years later sang lead on “Sharing,” the title track of Vitamin E’s sole album.

Los Angeles-born singer Rhonda Benin, a member of Linda Tillery’s Cultural Heritage Choir for the past 23 years, duets with Seacer on “High School Lovers.” “Except for that pot belly, you’re still the apple of my eye,” she sings at one point, reflecting a common physical attribute of middle age that in part inspired the Big Belly Blues Band name.

For the band’s new reading of Lonnie Hewitt’s “Is it Me,” Benin recommended Nashville-bred, Oakland-based singer and actor Nicolas Bearde, a charter member of Bobby McFerrin’s Voicesta. At the time Hewitt’s recording of “Is It Me” was being played on Bay Area radio, some listeners suggested It would be a perfect song for Lou Rawls. Bearde, who has performed and recorded tributes to Rawls, was thus a perfect choice.

In addition to the stellar cast of singers, the new BBBB album features many of the Bay Area’s most accomplished instrumentalists. Levi Seacer Jr. plays guitar throughout and alternates on bass with Bobby Reed. Ronnie Smith, Arron Green, Larry Vann, and Paul Tillman Smith take turns on trap drums, and Paul and Butch Haynes contribute additional percussion. Paul’s cousin Eric Tillman is featured on keyboards, along with Seacer, Lorenzo Hawkins, and Rom Rosenblum. Blues harmonica is by Richard Meyers. Trumpets are played by John Halblieb, Tom Poole, Geechie Taylor, and the late Khalil Shaheed. The trombonists are Danny Armstrong, Mike Rinta, and Harley White. The saxophonists are Morris Atchinson, James Carraway, James Nelson, Michael Peloquin, Doug Rowan, Robert Stewart, Joe Thornton, and Howard Wiley. Horn arrangements are by Seacer, Danny Armstrong, Carl Green, John Halblieb, Lonnie Hewitt, Rom Rosenblum, Johnny Talbot, and Harley White. And Paul Tillman Smith makes his debut as a rapper with the monologue on “Is It Me.”
Nobody’s Home brilliantly demonstrates Smith’s ongoing knack for picking just the right songs, singers, and players. He and his associates have created a masterpiece that stands out brightly in the annals of Oakland music.
Lee Hilderbrand, Music critic for the Chronicle, East Bay Express. Living Blues Magazine

Paul Tillman's Latest Interactions

Paul Tillman Smith has left an In Memory comment for Perry Washington.
Dec 24, 2020 at 8:05 PM

There were a lot of potentially great Black atheletes from Oakland High that never got a chance because of adverse racism. Class of 65 John Kincaid was one of them. John should have been a wide reciever for a NFL team. He developed severe mental problems because he was never acclimated to White society and was found dead in a train box car.  Over 75 percent of the African American males who graduated or didn't graduate from Oakland High never got a shot at anything. Black culture had been so isolated from White academic life starting from infancy. Unless you were absolutely lucky to have had  a professional father and or mother a young Black Boy  had several different types of obstacles preventing him from excelling intellectually period. Black mothers had there hands full trying to convince their childern to prepare for college. Black fathers were obselete in those days because many of them were  stressed out from not being able to find  solid income tand had to abandon their families. It became more about your mothers word verses that of your peers as to what to believe moving forward in society. Often times the peer pressure would win out. You could forget about landing  a scholarship for athelitics  or academics to any major college. You had a better chance of either going to prison on trumped up charges or becoming a janitor or security guard for some govermental agency. I was the only Black in my hang out group that made it to Cal Berkeley. The reason i made it to Cal had nothing to do with Oakland High. My talent is what allowed me to find my way. After High School i became a Black Hippy musician who lived and played in a all White Berkeley band that included world famous guitarist Steve Miller and musicians that formed the Country Joe and the Fish Band. I was thrust completely into a White world where as before i hung out with my Black friends on 13th ave in east Oakland. Being the only Black on a completely White scene taught me a awful lot. Some of the guys in the band were Berkeley students working on their masters degrees. After living in a house with my White band mates i figured hell if they could go to Cal maybe i could go too so i went to Merritt College for two years earning a 3.4 and then i transferred to Cal. I was the only one of my High School friends that accomplished this. Then something unheard of happened and i got a recording contract with CBS records in New York and dropped out of Cal with one quarter semester to go, with a 3.0. Of course things started slowly changing with the advent of the civil Rights movement. Society begin to change a lot for the good of us all. But that came too late for a lot of the black men i grew up with.

Paul Tillman Smith added a photo to profile gallery.
Dec 22, 2020 at 7:17 PM
Paul Tillman Smith added a photo to profile gallery.
Dec 22, 2020 at 7:08 PM
Paul Tillman Smith added a photo to profile gallery.
Dec 22, 2020 at 7:05 PM
Paul Tillman Smith added a photo to profile gallery.
Dec 22, 2020 at 7:04 PM
Paul Tillman Smith added a photo to profile gallery.
Dec 22, 2020 at 7:03 PM
Paul Tillman Smith added a photo to profile gallery.
Dec 22, 2020 at 7:02 PM
Paul Tillman Smith added a photo to profile gallery.
Dec 22, 2020 at 7:01 PM
Paul Tillman Smith has left an In Memory comment for Perry Washington.
Dec 22, 2020 at 6:34 PM

The High School student that killed Perry Washington's name was George.  We called him crazy George. He was always begging for pennys, that seemed so silly but he was a great guy. He didn't kill Mr Washington on a whim. Mr Washington could be quite threatening at times. The reason i know this is because Mr Washingtons girlfriend was also a friend of mine. I can't say she had eyes for me but i know certainly that i had no eyes for her other than she was nice to me as were many people nice to me at school. One day she stopped to talk to me on the side of the inside steps by the door. Mr Perry came by and asked me what the fluke was i doing talking to his girlfriend, scared me half to death. He looked at me like he would kill me. You better believe i ran from his girlfriend after that and him also, lol. I could see how Mr Perry could have scared Mr George in the same way to the point that Mr George feared for his life, no one knows the facts. Mr George probably saw no way out except to stab Mr Perry. Even though Mr Washington was a great athlete i must admit i felt relieved when i found out he had died, i truly believed that my life was at stake. Ironically i live on the Oakland Berkeley border and Mr George lived right around the corner from me on Shattuck and Alcatraz for years after he was released from jail. I don't see him anymore so i assume he died. Mr George did not have a killers heart. Mr George was slightly autistic.


Jan 29, 2020 at 1:36 AM
Jan 29, 2019 at 1:33 AM
Jan 29, 2018 at 1:33 AM
Paul Tillman Smith has a birthday today. New comment added.
Feb 01, 2018 at 5:57 PM

Posted on: Jan 29, 2017 at 1:33 AM

Jan 29, 2016 at 1:33 AM
Oct 29, 2015 at 10:24 AM

Sorry i couldn't make it. Made a thousand dollars that night playing music.

Paul Tillman Smith added a comment on Profile.
Sep 09, 2015 at 7:29 AM
Aug 26, 2015 at 4:34 PM

DELMA i didn't know i was five years i mean months older than u. Is Christopher coming? They should have hired us to play.

Paul Tillman Smith added a comment on Profile.
Aug 09, 2015 at 10:27 AM
May 24, 2015 at 11:10 AM

Hey Gordon, guess who i saw for the first time in a hundred years, David Harmon, lookin' good healthy happy with family and a beautiful wife. I hope i get to see lots of my classmates before it's over and sadly because we went to such a huge school a lot of people i just don't know. Coming to this class reunion will be like meeting people for the first time. lol. Paul Tillman smith

Paul Tillman Smith has left an In Memory comment for Ray Davis.
May 09, 2015 at 5:34 PM

The ultimate sacrifice. I can't imagine anything so unselfish. A million cheers for Ray. Of course our leadership at that time could have found a better cause in which to sacrifice so many young people.

Posted: Dec 22, 2020 at 7:17 PM
Posted: Dec 22, 2020 at 7:05 PM
Posted: Dec 22, 2020 at 7:04 PM
Posted: Dec 22, 2020 at 7:02 PM