Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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SMITH, Arthur

(b 1 April 1921, Clinton SC; d 3 April 2014, Charlotte NC) Country guitarist, bandleader, songwriter, known as Arthur 'Guitar Boogie' Smith. He worked in a textile mill and played semi-pro baseball; he began on cornet and played dixieland jazz, formed the Crackerjacks in 1938 and worked on local radio in South and North Carolina, recording for RCA 1937-8 and Super-Disc from 1945. 'Guitar Boogie' was a mysterious hit, not appearing in charts then, either because nobody knew what chart to put it in or because it took some years to sell a million. It was picked up by MGM and Smith recorded for that label until 1959. Joseph Murrells' Million Selling Records put it in 1946, while Pop Memories called it a hit in 1948: a jaunty country instrumental with no drums and a laid-back 4/4 feeling with an implied backbeat, it's often cited as a prequel to rock'n'roll, along with a lot of other titles of that period using the word 'boogie'. The other side of the British MGM 78, called 'Bebop Rag', by contrast had a lumpy 2/4 persona. He also popularized 'Red Headed Stranger', a song by Edith Lindeman and Carl Stutzby that was adopted and sung to his children by Willie Nelson.

Smith was one of the first country stars on TV, his Arthur Smith Show syndicated all over the southeast. He also co-wrote 'Beautiful Brown Eyes' (a hit for Rosemary Clooney in 1951), and co-wrote 'Feuding Banjos' with Don Reno, later called 'Duelling Banjos' and played in the soundtrack of Deliverance '72 by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandel (no. 2 USA hit '73: Smith allegedly had to take legal action to assert his ownership). He guested on Kate Smith and Bill Anderson shows, led the Crossroads Quartet and wrote gospel songs recorded by Johnny Cash, Ernie Ford and George Hamilton IV, and was a regular at Singin' On The Mountain religious fests at Grandfather Mountain.

His albums included Battlin' Banjos '69 on Monument, Singin' On The Mountain '73 on RCA with Hamilton, Original Guitar Boogie '74 on Rediffusion, Feudin' Again '78 on CMH with Reno. Acoustic Jumpin' Guitar '87 on the Relaxed Rabbit label compiled his 1945 tracks.