Major Bill Smith

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Major Bill Smith
Birth name William Arthur Smith
Born (1922-01-21)January 21, 1922
Checotah, Oklahoma, United States
Died September 12, 1994(1994-09-12) (aged 72)
Fort Worth, Texas, United States
Occupation(s) Record producer, songwriter, record label owner
Years active Mid-1950s–1980s
Labels LeCam, LeBill, Major, Charay, Soft, Billie Fran, Black Sheep, Brownfield, Campo, Christi, Karat, Maridene, Shah, Shalimar, Zuma

William Arthur Smith (January 21, 1922 – September 12, 1994),[1] known as Major Bill Smith, was an American record producer, publisher, promoter, songwriter, and record label owner based in Fort Worth, Texas.


He was born in Checotah, Oklahoma, and grew up listening to country and gospel music. In the Second World War he worked in a bomber factory before joining the United States Army Air Corps and being posted to England. As a B-17 navigator, he flew combat missions over Germany, and was wounded during his 33rd mission. He retired as a Major and after the war he became a public relations officer at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas, and began writing songs for local musicians. He also claimed to have worked for Don Robey, promoting records on Robey's Duke and Peacock labels, as well as producing some records himself by R&B singer Joe Hinton and others.[2] His first success came as the writer of Sonny James' 1956 hit, "Twenty Feet of Muddy Water".[1]

There is some uncertainty over details of his life, and he has been described as "a relentless self-promoter who seemed disinclined to let the facts get in the way of a good story".[2] He left the military in 1959, but used the designation Major in all his later dealings. He set up the LeCam record label and production company in Fort Worth with George Campbell; the name derived from that of Smith's wife Letitia, and Campbell. After several local hits, and reputedly turning down a young singer named John Deutschendorf or John Denver, his first national success came in 1962 as producer of Bruce Channel's hit "Hey! Baby", on which one of Smith's protégés, Delbert McClinton, played harmonica.[2] On that and other records, Smith's assistant Marvin "Smokey" Montgomery has also been credited as producer.[3] The following year, Smith was approached by college students Ray Hildebrand and Jill Jackson, and recorded the duo immediately on hearing their song. As "Hey Paula", credited to Paul and Paula, it became an international hit. Smith's third major hit as a credited producer was "Last Kiss", recorded by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers in 1964. Other acts reportedly produced by Smith included Larry & the Blue Notes, Bobby Skel (Skelton), T-Bone Walker, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and Gene Summers.[2]

Smith set up several music publishing companies, record labels, and promotion companies besides LeCam, including Charay Records and LeBill Music Inc.[4] He reputedly recorded and released over 3,000 songs over his career. He also preached and raised funds for charity at the Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth.[1] In later years, he achieved some notoriety for circulating tapes which he claimed proved that Elvis Presley had not died in 1977 but was still alive.[5] In 1983 Smith initiated a legal action against Elvis Presley Enterprises, claiming it was interfering with his ability to publish a book about Presley; it was eventually published privately as Elvis Lives.[6][7]

Smith died in Texas in 1994, aged 72.[4]