How Loverboy’s Scott Smith Disappeared Without a Trace
Loverboy’s story took a tragic turn on Nov. 30, 2000, when longtime bassist Scott Smith went missing after a sailing expedition gone wrong.
Members of the Canadian rock group were on break following their most recent performance together the prior weekend, a benefit for juvenile diabetes. The concert, billed as Loverboy and Friends, happened on Nov. 25 at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, Canada, raising more than 60 thousand dollars.
Smith, described as an “avid and experienced sailor,” via an MTV News report, was at the wheel of his sailboat, the Sea Major. The 45-year old musician was heading to a marina south of Los Angeles, where he and girlfriend Yvonne Mayotte hoped to spend the winter. Longtime friend Bill Ellis, who had been Smith’s roadie in Loverboy through the ‘80s, was also on board -- and the trio planned an additional stopover in Mexico.
Joyful Vacation Plans Ended in Tragedy
Ellis recounted the events of the outing during a subsequent interview published in the Montreal Gazette. “He called me up at the end of October and asked if I wanted to go sailing with him,” he remembered. “We were just two hours out from the dock in San Francisco.” The newspaper reported that Smith was piloting the thirty-seven-foot sailboat through “heavy seas, calm winds and a slight fog” when conditions turned treacherous at 4:48pm that Thursday. “One minute he was there and the next he was gone,” Ellis shared. “It happened very, very quickly.”
Both Ellis and Mayotte were below deck at the time a 25-foot wave hit the boat, knocking it to its side. The wave hit with such extreme force that the steering wheel was torn from the vessel. A Coast Guard helicopter arrived within 20 minutes with two additional Coast Guard boats showing up 10 minutes later. Finding no trace of Smith, deteriorating weather conditions would force all involved to put their efforts on pause. The Coast Guard officially concluded its search on Friday afternoon. Ellis, joined by friends and family, hired a private team to spend additional time looking for the bassist, but by Sunday night, according to Rolling Stone, they began to deal with what seemed like a sad reality. “We have to confirm what we already believe in our hearts, which we don’t want to believe,” the band’s manager Lou Blair said in a statement. “We’re looking for anything we can hang our hearts on."
In a 2007 interview, vocalist Mike Reno recalled the “worst phone call of my life” and how he struggled with figuring out the future. “I didn’t think I could go on with the band,” he said. “The last thing I felt like doing was singing songs that Scotty and I and the boys had been playing together for 22 years at that point. You know, it was a really bad thing and a harsh thing to have to go through.”
Emails from the fans, he noted, helped him find a path forward. “[The messages] said it would be a double tragedy if Loverboy never went back on the road,” he shared. “They understood that it may take me some time. The band let me decide, because they knew how close we were.”
In 2001, Loverboy enlisted Ken “Spider” Sinnaeve, a longtime friend of Smith’s from Winnipeg to step in as their new bassist. He was the “natural guy” for the job, the singer said, detailing how Smith had also given his friend a lot of his equipment over the years as periodic gifts.
They paid tribute to Smith with “Stranded,” an emotional song which was included on their next studio album, 2007's Just Getting Started, as the closing number. The track featured background vocals from Def Leppard’s Phil Collen, who had become friendly with the bassist and also worked on music with the group prior to his passing. “The song is about how I or people like me feel when we’re left here and our loved ones are taken away,” Reno explained.
Smith’s legacy with Loverboy remains in the songs they created together. He joined the band in 1980 and noted in the liner notes for 1994’s Loverboy Classics - Their Greatest Hits that the die for their future success had already been cast prior to his arrival. “There was really little for me to do except hold on to the reins and try to stay in the saddle,” he wrote. “When it clicked, the result was like a huge machine that mowed down skeptics and left the band and audience in an exhausted daze.”
The mutual love between Smith and his bandmates can also be found in the words he wrote about their songs in that same essay. He was quick to credit Reno when it came to one of his most identifiable moments on record, the prominent bass line in their debut single, 1980’s “Turn Me Loose.” “Truth be told, Reno wrote the bass part, so he should get the credit for that bit of rock history.”
READ MORE: The History of Loverboy's First Album
Watch Loverboy's Video For 'Turn Me Loose'
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Gallery Credit: UCR Staff