Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith
April 1, 1921|
Clinton, South Carolina, United States
|Origin||South Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina|
|Died||April 3, 2014
Charlotte, North Carolina, United States
|Occupation(s)||Composer, performer, producer|
|Instruments||Guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, accordion|
|Associated acts||Crackerjacks, Crossroads Quartet|
Arthur Smith (April 1, 1921 – April 3, 2014) was an American musician, songwriter, and producer of records, as well as a radio and TV host. Smith produced radio and TV shows; The Arthur Smith Show was the first nationally syndicated country music show on television. After moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, Smith developed and ran the first commercial recording studio in the Southeast.
Born in Clinton, South Carolina, Arthur Smith was a textile mill worker who became a celebrated and respected country music instrumental composer, guitarist, fiddler, and banjo player. His major hit was the instrumental "Guitar Boogie," which he wrote and recorded in 1945. It sold over three million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA. The song earned him the moniker Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith (to differentiate him from Tennessee fiddler and 1930s Grand Ole Opry star Fiddlin' Arthur Smith). It was recorded by numerous other musicians, including Tommy Emmanuel, and became known around the world.
Renamed "Guitar Boogie Shuffle", it became a rock and roll hit by Frank Virtue and the Virtues. Virtue served in the Navy with Smith and counted him as a major influence. Other musicians who have been influenced by Smith include Nashville studio ace Hank "Sugarfoot" Garland, Roy Clark, Glen Campbell and surf music pioneers the Ventures.
Smith was also noted for his "Feudin' Banjos" (1955), which was also recorded by Lester Flatt. It was revived as "Dueling Banjos" and used as a theme song in the popular movie, Deliverance (1972). Released as a single, it became a hit, played on Top 40, AOR, and country stations alike. It reached the Top Ten and hit #1 in the US and Canada. Because he was not credited in the film for the song, Smith sued Warner Brothers, and gained a settlement. His name was added to the film credits for his piece, and he received a share of royalties.
Arthur Smith was born in 1921 in the Clinton, South Carolina, the son of Clayton Seymour Smith, a cotton mill worker, and his wife. His father was also a music teacher, and led a brass band in Kershaw, South Carolina. The boy's first instrument was the cornet. Arthur, along with his brothers Ralph and Sonny, formed a Dixieland combo, the Carolina Crackerjacks, who appeared briefly on radio in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
They had limited success with their jazz format, and became more popular as a country music group. Arthur Smith moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to join the cast of the WBT Carolina Barndance, a live show and radio program. Before World War II, he was an occasional member of the WBT Briarhoppers band.
Post-World War II career
After wartime service in the US Navy, Smith returned to Charlotte. He was joined in his recording career by his brothers, wife Dorothy and vocalist Roy Lear. He also started his own radio show, Carolina Calling, on WBT. Smith emceed part of the first live television program broadcast in 1951 by the new television station, WBTV, in Charlotte.
His own The Arthur Smith Show was the first country music television show to be syndicated nationally; it ran for 32 years in 90 markets coast to coast. His band, renamed Arthur Smith & His Crackerjacks, became an institution in the Southeast area through the new medium. They had a daily early-morning variety program, Carolina Calling, which was carried on the CBS-TV network as a summer-replacement during the 1950s. This increased Smith's national visibility. Unusually for a country music band, his band relied on tight arrangements with written "charts" for most of their music.
"He was a good neighbor on radio and TV to so many people,” said Tom Hanchett, historian at the Levine Museum of the New South. “He was somebody who came to you every day in your living room or kitchen and felt like a member of the family in a way hard to imagine today. He was from the same mold as Doc Watson and Andy Griffith. He enjoyed the genial tradition of being a Southern gentleman. He relished that.”
In 1955, Smith composed a banjo instrumental he called "Feudin' Banjos," and recorded the song with five-string banjo player Don Reno. Later the composition was performed in the popular 1972 film Deliverance, retitled "Dueling Banjos" and played by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandel. It was released as a single becoming a major hit: played on Top 40, AOR, and country stations alike. It reached the Top Ten in several categories and was hit #1 in the US and Canada. Not credited for this piece in the film, Smith filed a legal suit against Warner Brothers, winning a "substantial settlement;" it included his being awarded songwriting credit and back royalties. This was considered a landmark copyright infringement suit.
As a composer, Smith had nearly 500 copyrights, including over 100 active inspirational and/or gospel music compositions. "The Fourth Man" and "I Saw A Man" were million sellers. In total, his compositions have been recorded numerous times, by artists including Chet Atkins, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, the Statesmen Quartet, the Cathedrals, Al Hirt, Barbara Mandrell, Willie Nelson, the Gatlin Brothers, Oak Ridge Boys, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Boots Randolph, George Beverly Shea, the Stamps, the Statler Brothers, Ricky Van Shelton and many more. A portion of his Crackerjacks group sang and recorded gospel music under the moniker the Crossroads Quartet. Among the members throughout the years were Smith, Tommy Faile, Ray Atkins, Lois Atkins, brother Ralph Smith, and Wayne Haas.
In Charlotte, Smith founded in 1957 the first commercial recording studio in the Southeast. In addition to recording the Crackerjacks and its various members, he recorded such musicians as vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Tommy Faile, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Pat Boone, Ronnie Milsap, George Beverly Shea and the Statler Brothers. He also produced sides from many other acts, including rhythm and blues star James Brown, whose "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" (1965) was cut in Smith's studio. It was later ranked as "No. 72 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time." In this facility, Smith also created and produced nationally syndicated radio programs hosted by Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins, Richard Petty, James Brown, and George Beverly Shea. Billy Graham's Hour of Decision radio program was first produced in Smith's studio. Smith also produced and hosted his own radio program, Top of the Morning, which was syndicated for an unbroken span of 29 years. In the 1970s, Smith produced a weekly, 30-minute videotaped program syndicated in more than 90 TV markets at its peak. He produced radio and television shows for a number of other artists, including Johnny Cash, who had become a friend, and gospel singer George Beverly Shea.
The Crackerjacks band employed a number of noted country musicians at various times, including Don Reno, fiddler Jim Buchanan (later with Jim & Jesse's Virginia Boys, Mel Tillis), banjoists David Deese, Carl Hunt and Jeff Whittington, resonator guitarist Ray Atkins (Johnny & Jack, Carl Story) and country singer George Hamilton IV. Other regular cast members included Wayne Haas, Maggie Griffin, Don Ange, and Jackie Schuler, along with Ralph Smith and Tommy Faile.
As of fall 2006, Smith was retired. His extensive publishing interests, production company, and management business are managed by his son, Clay Smith. The younger Smith, a noted recording artist, ran Johnny Cash's businesses in the late 1970s. He returned to his family business with his father in 1982.
His albums include Clay Smith - Smith & Son; Clay Smith & Arthur Smith – Guitars Galore; Clay Smith Decoupage; Clay Smith – Follow the River. Clay Smith is also an award-winning network television producer and record producer. Arthur and Clay Smith collaborated on 12 major motion picture soundtracks, including Dark Sunday, Death Driver and Living Legend. The father-son team received the Grand Prize-First Place Award for Original Music in the International Real Life Adventure Film Festival in Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy.
Smith died at his home on April 3, 2014, two days after his 93rd birthday. Arthur is survived by his wife of 72 years, Dorothy Byars Smith of Charlotte; three children, Clay Smith and Connie Brown, both of Charlotte, and Reggie Smith of Atlanta; seven grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. On April 12, 2014, artists, friends and family paid tribute to Smith in a memorial celebration at Calvary Church in Charlotte, NC. Producer Fred Foster gave the eulogy. George Hamilton IV, The Avett Brothers, and others performed several of Smith's popular gospel songs. Dave Moody and David Johnson performed Smith's classic banjo instrumental, "Dueling Banjos." The service ended with a rendition of "Guitar Boogie" performed by a band full of guitarists, including Smith's nephews Tim and Roddy Smith.
Smith received awards as songwriter and producer: BMI Song of the Year Award 1973; Grammy - Dueling Banjos (1973) (original writer); Council on International Nontheatrical Events - Golden Eagle Award (1980); The Gold Squirrel Award (Grand Prize – First Prize) Festival International Film & Adventura, Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy (1981); International Real Life Adventure Film Festival, 1st Place Award (1981); State of North Carolina Order of The Long Leaf Pine (1984); Southeast Tourism Society Award (1985); American Advertising Federation Silver Medal Award (1986); Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) Special Citation of Achievement (over 1 million broadcast performances of original compositions); The Broadcasters Hall of Fame – North Carolina Association of Broadcasters (1990); South Carolina Broadcasters Association (2006); South Carolina Hall of Fame (1998); North Carolina Folk Heritage Award (1998); North Carolina Award (2001); Legends Award – Western Film Festival 2003; Lifetime Achievement Award - South Carolina Broadcasters Association (2006); BMI Legendary Songwriter Award (2006); North Carolina Music Hall of Fame (2010).
- Jumpin' Guitar (MGM)
- Guitars Galore (CBS/Monument)
- Smith & Son (CBS/Monument)
- Battling Banjos (CBS/Monument)
- Arthur Smith (MGM)
- Guitar Boogie (MGM)
- The Guitar of Arthur Smith (Starday)
- A Tribute to Jim Reeves (Dot)
- Great Country and Western Hits (Dot)
- Singing on the Mountain (Starday)
- The Arthur Smith Show (Dot)
- Down Home (Starday)
- Old Timers of the Grand Ol' Opry (MGM)
- Original Guitar Boogie (Starday)
- Arthur Smith and Voices (ABC Paramount)
- Goes to Town (Starday)
- Arthur Smith: In Person (Starday)
- Arthur Smith and the Crossroads Quartet (RCA)
- Mister Guitar (Starday)
- Fingers on Fire (MGM)
- Specials (Polydor)
- Arthur Smith, Vol. 1 (Polydor)
- The Original Dueling Banjos (CBS/Monument)
- Plays Bach, Bacharach, Bluegrass & Boogie (CBS/Monument)
|US Country||CAN Country|
|1948||"Banjo Boogie"||9||—||singles only|
|1963||"Tie My Hunting Dog Down, Jed"||29||—|
|1973||"Battling Banjos Polka"||—||64||Battling Banjos|
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- "2010 Inductees". North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 10, 2012.