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Arthur Smith Biography

1 April 1921, Clinton, South Carolina, USA. After the Smith family moved to Kershaw when Arthur was four years old, his father ran the town band and his son played trumpet with it. A few years later, by now playing guitar, mandolin and banjo, he formed a country band with two of his brothers. He graduated with honours in the late 30s but turned down lucrative employment, deciding instead to form a dixieland jazz band, the Crackerjacks, which played on WSPA Spartanburg. After his brothers were drafted, he worked on WBT Charlotte before joining the navy in 1944. He played in the navy band, wrote songs and on his return to civilian life, organized variety shows featuring country and gospel music on WBT and WBT-TV; in 1947, he also gave bible classes. In 1948, he achieved Top 10 US country chart success with his MGM Records recordings of ‘Guitar Boogie’ and ‘Banjo Boogie’, with the former crossing over to the US pop chart, introducing many people to the potential of the electric guitar (in 1959, ‘Guitar Boogie’ was a US and UK pop hit for the Virtues and the same year became British guitarist Bert Weedon’s first UK pop hit, although both recorded it as ‘Guitar Boogie Shuffle’) - Billboard initially seemed unsure in which chart to place the recording. Fender began to produce his ‘Broadcaster’ model, soon changing the name to ‘Telecaster’, the beginning of that instrument’s popularity. The following year ‘Boomerang’, another guitar instrumental, became a country hit. The Arthur Smith Show on television started in the 50s and became so popular that by the mid-70s, it was still networked to most of the USA; artists from all fields were eager guests.

Smith and the Crackerjacks (no longer a jazz band) recorded regularly over the years for various labels, with gospel music always prominent. Smith later became a deacon in a Baptist church. By the 70s, he had extended his business interests to include record, show and commercial productions and was also a director of a large insurance company. For a time in the mid-70s, he even ran a chain of supermarkets and formed the Arthur Smith Inns Corporation. In 1973, he and banjoist Don Reno instigated legal action against Warner Brothers Records over the use of ‘Duelin’ Banjos’ as the theme music for the movieDeliverance. They claimed that the music was based on a tune called ‘Feudin’ Banjos’, written by Smith and recorded by them in 1955. After approximately two years of legal wrangling they won the case, received damages and legal rulings about future royalties. ‘Duelin’ Banjos’ was named Best Country Music Song Of The Year in 1973. The following year George Hamilton IV recorded his Bluegrass Gospel album at Smith’s recording studio in Charlotte, North Carolina. Smith has copyrighted more than 500 songs, only one of which, ‘Our Pilot Knows The Sea’, is co-authored. In 1991, he published his first book, Apply It To Life. It includes the words and music to 10 of his best-known hymns, which have also been released as an album with vocals by Johnny Cash, George Beverly Shea, George Hamilton IV and Smith himself with the Crossroads Quartet.

This artist should not be confused with Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith or with Arthur Q. Smith, a Knoxville songwriter, who sometimes co-wrote songs with Jim Eanes.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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