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Ex-drummer never misses a beat in his garden

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Kenneth Smith likes to call himself a “do-what-you-got-to-do fellow”.

He's 94, but when his grass needs mowing, he mows it; when his garden needs ploughing, he ploughs it.

His garden is his passion.

“When I get up in the morning the first thing I do is look out the window,” he said. “Carrots, onions, string beans, cristophines, cucumber ­— I grow it all.”

As a young man he wasn't the least bit interested. His father, Arthur Smith, would ask for help in the garden and he'd suggest hiring someone.

His focus was firmly on music.

“My father was the band leader for the Warwick Amateur Marching Band,” he said. “They would play on Sundays. I couldn't play a note, but at 13 I would march along behind trying to play any instrument I could. The other band leaders tolerated me because I was the band leader's son, I suppose.”

Around this time, his father gave him a choice about his future. “He said do you want to go to Berkeley or join the Dockyard Apprenticeship Scheme?” said Mr Smith.

The scheme trained young boys in trades that were useful to the Dockyard such as engineering.

“I don't know why, but I answered Dockyard. I had no idea it would mean getting up at 5.30am to pedal to the ferry to make 7am in Dockyard.”

The apprenticeship took up a lot of his time, but he did manage to take piano lessons for two years.

Then the Second World War heated up and there was no time for scheduled lessons.

He often worked until 9pm as a ship machinist on submarines, battle cruisers and other vessels.

But he was determined to continue with music in some way, so he taught himself to play the drums.

“In 1940, I bought a gramophone and bought some old recordings,” he said. “I used to wind up a gramophone and try to beat the tune I heard. My mother used to get irritated by the noise and slam the door.”

At first he played casually with friends but in 1945 Ernie Leader, one of the top band leaders in Bermuda at the time, invited him to play with his orchestra.

“I said ‘Are you kidding? I can barely play',” said Mr Smith. “But he said, ‘Nonsense. If you can read music, you can play the drums'.

“When I started playing with him some of the other members grumbled and said, ‘Where did you get that country boy, Ernie?'”

He left after six months, playing with well-known band leader Al Davi at Belmont and later, the Freddie Matthews Band at Castle Harbour.

He was then approached by piano player Earl Darrell to help form a new group, the Aldarnos.

“There was another guy in the group called Arnold Laws, and an American I only knew as ‘Big Herb'. They called him that because he was big as a house. I became the band manager.”

After Mr Darrell retired from the band, Mr Smith changed its name to Aldano Sextette. Other members came and went, but he stayed from 1955 until 2004.

He was awarded the Queen's Badge of Honour in 2002 for musical contributions. He also received numerous citations over the years although, as a drummer, he was never in the spotlight much.

“I was a background fellow,” he said. “Very rarely I would stand up and announce the band. I did it on special occasions. In 1982 the Bermuda Musicians' Union gave me an award and asked me to make a speech.

“I told them I am not a man of words, I am a ‘do-what-you-got-to-do fellow'. After that, people started calling me Mr Do What You Got to Do. He and his wife Lorraine have been married 43 years and between them have three daughters, and one son and 11 grandchildren.

• Lifestyle profiles senior citizens in the community every Tuesday. To suggest an outstanding senior contact Jessie Moniz Hardy: 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com. Have on hand the senior's full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them.

Then and now: Kenneth Smith, looking sprightly at 94, with a picture of himself in his younger days playing drums with the Aldano Sextette. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Musician Kenneth Smith looks over photos from his glory days as band leader of the Aldano Sextette. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Kenneth Smith remembering his days with the Aldano Sextette. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Kenneth Smith, second left, playing with the Aldano Sextette. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Kenneth Smith third from left with the Aldanos. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published June 14, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 14, 2016 at 8:25 am)

Ex-drummer never misses a beat in his garden

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