As a child, Smith played trumpet in his father’s cotton mill group and absorbed all kinds of music - from the Big Bands to rhythm and blues, Gospel and jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
Around the age of 6, Smith started writing his own songs – more than 500 songs in his lifetime. He played in a Dixieland group with his brothers Ralph and Sonny, and later mastered the mandolin, fiddle, guitar and other instruments.
Smith was 15 when he cut records for RCA’s budget Bluebird label at the
|Smith, June Carter and Johnny Cash|
“Guitar Boogie” was recorded on acoustic guitar with help from Don
Smith’s hit record single helped inspire a 'country-boogie' trend and led to Smith’s contract with the MGM record label in 1947. Such country stars as Vince Gill, Glen Campbell and Roy Clark all stated that Arthur Smith influenced their interest in the guitar.
Smith was a music innovator, TV pioneer, radio personality, successful businessman and Sunday School teacher: He was important on many levels. His radio career had begun in 1941, hosting live shows on WSPA in
In 1955, Arthur Smith recorded “Feuding Banjos,” which featured Smith’s tenor banjo with Don Reno’s 5-string banjo. The instrumental became a popular bluegrass tune that was featured as the theme song for the 1972 film “Deliverance” -- but giving no credit to Smith.
The mild-mannered Sunday School teacher showed a he was no “easy mark” and took on Warner Brothers movie company after his novelty song “Feuding Banjos” was used in the movie “Deliverance without credit or royalty payments.” Smith filed a lawsuit and won a substantial settlement.
In 1992, “Dueling Banjos” was used in a commercial for Mitsubishi automobiles. Smith said this experience was much more pleasant than the one he had with Warner Brothers. Although he never disclosed how much money he made from the lawsuit, Smith pointed to a picture of a 42-foot yacht on the wall of his office and noted, “Warner Bros. bought that boat for me.”
Smith’s hobbies were boating and sports fishing. He founded ‘Arthur Smith Sportfishing Tournaments’ which ran for almost 20 years on the
Smith’s business interests also included the first recording studio in the
|Smith, with Earl & Louise Scruggs at Johnny Cash's home|
In 1965, the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown rented the studio for three hours and cut “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” which later ranked No.
For 25 years, Smith produced, marketed and syndicated national radio programs hosted by Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash and others. Smith’s own show, “Top of the Day,” ran for 30 years – and with one sponsor.
Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff often said that he was surprised Smith could make it in the country music business without living in
Whether it was radio, TV, personal appearances or through recordings, Smith told an interviewer in 2007: “I was always thankful to have an audience. We stood for the people.”
Note: All photos courtesy of the Smith Family Collection.
[ED: This piece was written using several sources, including personal recollections and recent newspaper tributes to Arthur Smith.]