The Amazing Rhythm Aces

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The Amazing Rhythm Aces
The Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1976
The Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1976
Background information
OriginMemphis, Tennessee, United States
Years active1974–1981, 1994–present
LabelsValley, ABC, Columbia, Warner Bros., Breaker
MembersBilly Earheart III
Lorne Rall
Kelvin Holly
Mark Horn
Past membersBarry Burton
Duncan Cameron
Jeff Davis
James Hooker
Butch McDade
Danny Parks
Scott McClure
Mike Brooks
Russell Smith

The Amazing Rhythm Aces is an American country rock group, which has characterized its music as "American music" or "roots music"—a blend of rock, country, blues, R&B, folk, reggae, and Latino. The band is best known for its 1975 hit "Third Rate Romance". They have released 18 albums over 30 years (a period including a 15-year hiatus). The band's music is distinguished by its eclectic scope, literate and often quirky lyrics, and distinctive vocals by lead singer and songwriter Russell Smith.


Members of the Aces played in Fatback, a local band in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, consisting of vocalist and guitarist Russell Smith, bassist Jeff "Stick" Davis, drummer Butch McDade (born David Hugh McDade in Clarksdale, Missouri; February 24, 1946 – November 29, 1998),[1] and Fatback's first lead guitarist Mike Brooks and later Dan Kennedy. The band left Knoxville in the early 1970s.

In 1972, the Aces came together in Memphis, Tennessee,[2] at the recommendation of Barry "Byrd" Burton (born in Greene County, Tennessee; September 7, 1946 – March 10, 2008),[3] who was engineering and producing at the Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis. Davis and McDade, who had recorded and toured with singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester as "The Rhythm Aces",[4] recruited Smith, keyboardist Billy Earheart III, lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Burton, and pianist James Hooker to develop a sound mixing of pop, country, and blue-eyed soul.

Stacked Deck, their debut album, released in 1975, resulted in two crossover (rock and country) hits, "Third Rate Romance" and "Amazing Grace (Used to Be Her Favorite Song)", the group's lone Top 10 country single.[2] In 1976, "The End Is Not in Sight (The Cowboy Tune)", from the album Too Stuffed to Jump, won a Grammy for Country Vocal Performance by a Group. "Third Rate Romance" reached No. 1 on the Canadian pop/rock charts. These tracks were engineered by Burton, who produced their first three albums.

Burton left the group after the release of Toucan Do It Too in 1977 and was replaced by Duncan Cameron.

In 1978, the Aces released Burning the Ballroom Down, followed the next year by a self-titled album featuring songs with Joan Baez, Tracy Nelson and the Muscle Shoals Horns. Both albums received critical approval but sold poorly. They released another album, How the Hell Do You Spell Rhythum, before disbanding.


Smith became a successful songwriter and had some minor successes on the country charts as a solo artist and successfully composed songs for other performers such as Ricky Van Shelton, T. Graham Brown, and Randy Travis.[5] Earheart joined Hank Williams, Jr.'s Bama Band, and Cameron joined Sawyer Brown, a group that found significant chart success in the 1980s with a sound similar to the Amazing Rhythm Aces. Hooker joined Nanci Griffith's band, the Blue Moon Orchestra, in 1987 and became its leader. Hooker retired from touring in 2007 and lives in County Tipperary, Ireland, and Mallorca, Spain, where he continues to keep an active writing and recording schedule.[6]

McDade died of bladder cancer on November 29, 1998, only months after the release of Out of the Blue. He was 52.

Burton became a successful producer and session guitarist. He released a solo instrumental country album, Byrd Braynz (ADF Records), in 2002. He died on March 10, 2008, from complications of myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare form of blood cancer, at the age of 61.[7][8]


The Aces re-formed in 1994. The group, composed of Smith, Davis, McDade, Earheart, Hooker, and new guitarist-mandolinist Danny Parks, released Ride Again, an album of new renditions of their biggest hits.

They composed songs for a comeback album, Out of the Blue, released in mid-1998 with drummer Michael Organ as a temporary replacement for the ailing McDade. Drummer Bill Bonnette played with the band in 1999. Davis left the group in 2004, shortly after the release of "Nothin' but the Blues" to join Sneaky Pete Kleinow and Garth Hudson in Burrito Deluxe. Since 2007, the Aces' lineup included original members Smith and Earheart along with Kelvin Holly on lead guitar. The boogie-and-blues-inspired Nothin' but the Blues was followed by Midnight Communion, in 2007, which hearkened back to the Aces' eclectic roots music origins.

Following a cancer diagnosis, Russell Smith died in 2019 at age 70.[9]



Year Album Chart Positions Label
US Country US AUS
1975 Stacked Deck 12 120 ABC
1976 Too Stuffed to Jump 16 157 93
1977 Toucan Do It Too 26 114
1978 Burning the Ballroom Down 28 166
1979 The Amazing Rhythm Aces 47 144
1980 How the Hell Do You Spell Rythum? 175 85 Warner Bros.
1981 Full House: Aces High MSS
1982 4 You 4 Ever: Best of Amazing Rhythm Aces M&R
1994 Ride Again Breaker
1997 Out of the Blue
1998 Chock Full of Country Goodness Valley
1999 Live in Switzerland Store for Music
Concert Classics, Volume 3 Renaissance
2000 Absolutely Live Icehouse
2000 Stacked Deck/Too Stuffed To Jump Collectors' Choice Music
2001 Between You and Us Pilot
2004 Nothin' but the Blues Russell Smith
2007 Midnight Communion
2009 Very Best of Amazing Rhythm Aces Varese
2020 Moments Live in Germany 2000 MIG


Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country US CAN Country CAN CAN AC
1975 "Third Rate Romance" 11 14 1 1 2 Stacked Deck
"Amazing Grace (Used to Be Her Favorite Song)" 9 72 10 79
1976 "The End Is Not in Sight (The Cowboy Tune)" 12 42 20 69 Too Stuffed to Jump
1978 "Ashes of Love" 100 Burning the Ballroom Down
1979 "Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)" 88 104 The Amazing Rhythm Aces
1980 "I Musta Died and Gone to Texas" 77 How the Hell Do You Spell Rythum?


  1. ^ "Obituary: Butch McDade". The Independent. December 18, 1998.
  2. ^ a b Colin Larkin, ed. (1993). The Guinness Who's Who of Country Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 0-85112-726-6.
  3. ^ "Burton, Barry "Byrd"".
  4. ^ "Jesse's Bands".
  5. ^ Friskics-Warren, Bill (July 21, 2019). "Russell Smith, Amazing Rhythm Aces Singer and Song Writer, Dies at 70". The New York Times. Retrieved September 3, 2020.
  6. ^ "James Hooker". Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  7. ^ "Memorial Service Set for Guitarist Barry "Byrd" Burton".
  8. ^ "". Archived from the original on October 2, 2016. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  9. ^ Betts, Stephen L. (July 14, 2019). "Russell Smith, Amazing Rhythm Aces Singer, Dead at 70". Rolling Stone.
  10. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 16. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.


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