Carl Smith: Country singer who made the charts every year from 1951 to 1973
Friday 12 February 2010
One of the most successful country stars of the 1950s, Carl Smith enjoyed a string of hits, including "If Teardrops Were Pennies", "Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way", "Are You Teasing Me", "Loose Talk" and "Deep Water", that saw him appearing in the country charts every year from 1951 to 1973.
His earliest and, arguably, finest records drew upon the honky-tonk style exemplified by his sometime friend, Hank Williams, but his vocals possessed a warmth that anticipated the emergence of the Nashville Sound and would prove quietly influential with subsequent performers.
Usually attired in a suit rather than the sequinned outfits typically worn by his peers, he exuded a modest dignity and gained the nickname "The Country Gentleman". Waylon Jennings was among those he impressed: "From the minute he came out, I wanted to look like him, tried to comb my hair like him and learnt every song he ever recorded."
Although known for his assured way with a love song, Smith fronted one of the hottest bands in the genre, the Tunesmiths, an outfit that at different times featured drummer Buddy Harmon, guitarist Grady Martin and steel guitarist Johnny Sibert who alternated a "crying" steel guitar style on ballads with virtuoso improvisations on up-tempo numbers. Their work on discs like "Go, Boy Go" (1954) suggests a surprising affinity with the rockabilly of the era.
Carl Smith was born in Maynardville, East Tennessee, in 1927, and as a child idolised the Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff, who had been born in the same town. His first guitar was purchased with money made from selling seeds to his neighbours and he financed lessons by mowing lawns. While still in his teens he made his debut on local radio, appearing on the Cas Walker show on WROL, Knoxville.
A spell in the US Navy was followed by a return to performing as a member of the Brewster Brothers Band and in time he found himself offering musical support to stars such as Molly O'Day and Archie Campbell.
In 1950 he came to the attention of Troy Martin, a Nashville publishing executive who introduced him to Jack Stapp, the manager of the Grand Ole Opry, and to Don Law of Columbia Records. Stapp arranged a guest appearance on an Opry segment hosted by Hank Williams and as a result Smith was offered an early-morning slot, six days a week, on WSM radio. At his debut session for Columbia he recorded "Guilty Conscience" and "I Just Dropped In To Say Goodbye", but they made only limited headway, as did a pair of songs given to him by Williams: "Me And My Broken Heart" and "There's Nothing As Sweet As My Baby".
It wasn't until the release of "Let's Live A Little" (1951) that he enjoyed his first substantial hit and in that same year he had his first No. 1 with "Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way" before following it up with "(When you Feel Like You're In Love) Don't Just Stand There" (1952). "It's A Lovely Lovely World" (1952) was the first of his hits to be penned by the husband-and-wife team of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, and was followed by "Hey Joe!", "Just Wait Till I Get You Home" and "Back Up Buddy" (all 1953). Other major songwriters to be championed by Smith included Porter Wagoner, Freddie Hart and Eddie Miller.
He left the Opry in 1956 and toured with the Philip Morris Country Music Show. He appeared in a couple of minor Westerns, Buffalo Guns (1961), and The Badge Of Marshal Brennan (1957), starred on television's Ozark Jubilee and continued to record, charting with further hits such as Leon Payne's "You Are The One", "Ten Thousand Drums" (1959) and "Deep Water" (1967). From 1964 he fronted a syndicated television show in Canada, Carl Smith's Country Music Hall, appearing in 190 weekly episodes and doing much to popularise the genre.
In 1973, having sold 15m records, he parted ways with Columbia and signed with Hickory Records. A few minor successes followed, but in 1979 he retired from music and spent the rest of his life raising quarter horses on a 500-acre ranch outside Nashville.
In 1952 Smith married Opry star June Carter. Although they divorced four years later – she went on to marry Johnny Cash – their daughter Rebecca has, as Carlene Carter, enjoyed a successful musical career of her own. In 1957 he wed another country singer, Goldie Hill, the marriage lasting until her death in 2005. In 2003 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Carl Smith, singer and songwriter: born Maynardville, Tennessee 15 March 1927; married 1952 June Carter (marriage dissolved 1956, one daughter), 1957 Goldie Hill (died 2005, two sons, one daughter); died Franklin, Tennessee 16 January 2010.
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