About The Artist
Carl Smith came into this world born on a farm in Maynardsville, Tennessee, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Dock Smith. Like many young boys in that environment, Carl's life consisted of going to school (he walked five miles to get there) in the fall and winter months, while spending the summer months working in the fields on the family farm. He was the baby in a family that included several older sisters.
But music took a liking to Carl early on. When he was seven, he pestered his mom and dad for a guitar, they got him a second-hand one. When he was about ten years old, he found himself wanting to finish the farm chores so he could steal a bit of time to learn how to play the new guitar he had gotten. By the time he was twelve, Carl was making a name for himself in the area, playing the dances and other neighborhood events.
He continued his musical endeavors as he grew older. At the age of 13, he traveled some thirty miles to Knoxville to appear on an amateur talent show called "All Stars of Tomorrow" on WROL for children under the age of 14. That sparked an interest that stayed with him. In 1944, when he was sixteen, he applied for and got his first radio job over that same station, WROL in Knoxville. But that job was only during summer vacation. Come September, Carl had to go back to school and finish his senior year in high school.
But we learn some bits of trivia browsing old news articles of that bygone era. It seems that while there, Carl got a bit of a break when a bass fiddler didn't show up for one of the on-the-street radio shows in Knoxville. They asked Carl to take his place, in spite of his protests that he didn't know how to play the bass. They just told him to "...stand there and hold the confounded thing." He did well enough that they gave him the job. That bass fiddle player Carl replaced was Roy "Junior" Huskey, who later became a member of Carl's band, The Tunesmiths.
But Carl had to put his musical aspirations aside for a while, for back then the country was involved in World War II. He joined the U.S. Navy two days before his high school graduation. He served sixteen months in the Pacific arena and when he got back to Tennessee, he was again at WROL.
It didn't take long for others to hear and learn of this new singing talent. Radio station WWNC in Asheville had heard of Carl and invited him to join their staff. He only spent several months there and his next spot would be with a group of performers at WGAC, located in Augusta, Georgia. But the times were rough for him and left him a bit disappointed. A few times Carl went home hungry and disappointed and worked the farms again. He even found his clothes and two guitars locked up for back rent, but he persevered.
His musical career found him going back to Knoxville and WROL though. Molly O'Day made Carl an offer that he accepted. But Molly then decided to take a break for a time, opening a vacancy on the staff. Another legendary performer was there at the time, too, Archie Campbell, who then hired Carl to work on a couple of shows - The Country Playhouse" and "The Dinnerbell".
During a time when the "term" hillbilly was associated with what later became to be known as country music, Carl was sometimes described as a "...handsome hillbilly" (he was over six feet tall) and "...a magnet for female stares." In fact, one magazine citation indicates this bit of transitioning of the musical terms when they tried to describe Carl's popularity.
"While the popularity of folk music continues to rise steadily, there are several young artists who are rising with it and one of these is Carl Smith, who is rapidly becoming America's number one hillbilly."
While in Knoxville, Carl caught the attention of Jack Stapp and WSM's Grand Ole Opry. We learned that in 1950, Troy Martin and Charlie Lamb persuaded the not too confident at the time Carl to do an audition for WSM's program director at the time, Jack Stapp. At the same time, it seems that audition tape was a way of introducing Carl to Don Law at Columbia Records. Its said that Mr. Law commented that Carl would have a contract with Columbia if the Opry accepted Carl. Jack Stapp offered some encouraging comments, but it wasn't until a month later that WSM called Carl back one late spring night. On April 19, 1950, Carl made his first appearance onstage of the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry. It didn't take long for his popularity to grow.
He joined the staff and at one time also had a weekly television show over WSM-TV. It seemed that Carl had found a home musically, and seemed comfortable with it. In one magazine Question and Answer session, he indicated that his plans for the future included, "I feel just like I want to stay at WSM and the Grand Ole Opry and pick and sing until I fall over and die."
In a 1955 article attributed to Jim Denny, then the head of WSM's Artists' Service Bureau, Mr. Denny noted that Carl's rising career was the closest thing they've come to seeing an artist progress the way they'd like. He mentions that when Carl first came to WSM, he would work whatever shows he could in the morning, getting a chance to get his name known and plug his records. He did that for more than a year. Those first 18 months with the Opry and Columbia Records didn't see any major hits, but then came "Mr. Moon" followed by "This Orchid Means Good-bye". From that point on, there wasn't stopping his rise to fame. Mr. Denny noted that the fame didn't seem to change Carl much, finding him the same pleasurable person to work with then that he knew when he first came to WSM.
That same 1955 magazine (one in which Carl was "Editor for a Day" at Country Song Roundup") also had an article attributed to Don Law that recounted that April 1950 time when he first heard Carl through a tape brought to him by Troy Martin, who was the Nashville representative for Peer International at the time. He indicates he signed Carl to a contract on May 5, 1950 and cut their first session on "April 11th", which appears to be a typo and probably should be May 11th.
His first release was "Guilty Conscience" b/w "Washing My Dreams In Tears". Columbia stuck with Carl, as Mr. Law indicates he felt Carl was a "valuable piece of talent that sooner or later we would hit the right song." As Mr. Denny indicated above, that song was "Mr. Moon". Later, "If Teardrops Were Pennies" came along and a long string of hits were to follow.
He spent a large part of his recording career with Columbia records. Listening to his tunes, you hear a bit of a mixture of the sounds of that day, but also perhaps a prelude to the smoother sounds that were to come to Nashville later. He had a casual manner perhaps, using the hard honky-tonk sound with a strong steel guitar sound, but his smooth voice rounded out that sound a bit.
A mid-1950s article described the casual atmosphere that seemed to be a part of his casual recording sessions, maybe partly for publicity reasons to picture him that way, but may be a way to describe how his sound was a bit different than the rest of what was being heard back then. They wrote of him often recording in his stocking feet, while the musicians behind him would back him up without any written music (which is a bit of Nashville's legend and lore). They wrote "...they just play and it comes out music, darn good music, at that." To further underline his casual manner to recording, or more likely, the informal process that seemed to be a part of the industry back then in that golden age, when he recorded the tune, "My Lonely Heart is Running Wild", the song didn't even have a title. After he recorded it, the guy in the control room blurted out his praise for it - telling Carl that's good, but what'll they call it, which led to a discussion to give the song a title.
Carl's popularity was something to see back in the 1950s. There was hardly a publication then that wasn't featuring Carl in one way or another, as fans were wanting to know more about the singer and the hit tunes he was turning out. Country Song Roundup named him "Number One Hillbilly" in their annual popularity poll in 1952. It saw him on their cover, on the cover of Cowboy Songs. Country & Western Jamboree had a cover story on him.
The various fan and disc jockey polls usually had Carl and his band the Tunesmiths in the Top Five. He was voted the fourth "Best Male Singer" in the 1956 Country & Western Jamboree Readers poll (he had finished fifth in the 1955 poll), while his band was voted the third "Best Dance Band" and also "Best Show Band". In addition, they had named him No. 9 in their vote on the "All Time Favorites", a list which didn't include Hank Williams in the Top Ten, but did include Jimmie Rodgers at No. 3. In the 1955 poll, his band was named "Best New Big Band", and was runnerup as "Best New Show Band". His tune "Loose Talk" was named third best vocal record of the year. That song earned him a Billboard award for the song stayed on the charts 30 weeks.
We find a bit of insight into the apparel and how it factored into his performances back then. An old article mentions that his closet had 15 or 20 "fancy cowboy outfits" that were the style of country music performers back then. They wrote that when Carl first joined the Opry, he wore the traditional cowboy suits and kept doing so until one evening, his friend Ernest Tubb appeared on the Opry wearing a suit just like one he had. At that point, Carl's thought was to change his mode of dress to enable him to have a sort of individuality to set him apart a bit. So, Carl Smith and the Tunesmiths began appearing in casual sports clothes. It wasn't until later only that Carl went back to wearing the more Hollywood-type cowboy suits that were created by the legendary Nudie of Hollywood.
In January of 1957, Carl Smith and others such as Red Sovine, Goldie Hill, Ronnie Self, Mimi Roman, Biff Collie (a disc jockey from Houston who worked in the role of emcee for the tour), Shirley Caddell and his band the Tunesmiths, embarked on a new type of road show. It was known as the Philip Morris Country Music Road Show. This was a 'free show' for the fans as it traveled to various venues around the country. The show ran for 16 consecutive months, a series of one-nighters. The stars that appeared on the show were contracted by Philip Morris with the Jim Denny Artist Bureau of Nashville. The first free show was to Philip Morris employees in Richmond, Virginia. The first free public show was on January 13, 1957 in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Philip Morris Country Music Show got a lot of coverage as one might expect by the country music publications of the day and initially was favorable. Country Music had been a part of such sponsored shows in the past, where the sponsored shows were used to sell a product. One can recall the old medicine show days. The Hadacol Company sponsored such a show earlier in the decade - with such stars as Hank Williams and Minnie Pearl used as entertainers to draw folks to the shows who had to buy a bottle of Hadacol to see the shows.
Early on the press wrote of the lofty aims of the show. O. Parker McComas, then president of Philip Morris is quoted as stating, "...Our aim is to make good live entertainment available to the people. We hope, in the process, to further the careers of some fine artists who are already stars and help to introduce promising new talent. We hope to meet lots of fine people. And people are responsible for the success of our business." Country & Western Jamboree magazine wrote its praises in their March 1957 issue in an article by Dan Campbell, "It's a great move and deserves the applause of every country music fan."
However, the magazine saw a new editor come on board, Ben A. Green, who wrote an article entitled "Free Shows Hurt Artists, Sponsors Worst of All" in the July 1957 issue. Mr. Green covered the history of the 'free shows' and pointed out that the new show itself had begun to subtly not be so free for it seems in the April 29 show, fnas had to provide a 'proof-of-purchase' of a Philip Morris product to gain entrance, thus potentially changing and even reducing the audience the show would entertain. Mr. Green laments that it hurt the careers of the artists, trying to relate being a part of the show as evidence of slowing record sales for the artists. But that doesn't seem to hold when you look at the lengthy careers many of the stars of this show enjoyed. But the show seemed to hurt most of all the "outside artists" as Mr. Green termed it. These were the artists who relied on personal appearances to earn a living - but found it tougher to compete against a free show with major acts or the legendary WSM Grand Ole Opry artists. However, Mr. Green acknowledged that in spite of some of this ill will, the show actually did open up new territory for country music and introduce it to new fans. Mr. Green laments the the free show further when he said by making Country Music a giveaway, it cheapened it in the eyes of the people. But as we noted earlier, the show did run over a year.
The year of 1957 also saw Carl appearing in a couple of movies that were released. One also featured Webb Pierce, called "Buffalo Guns". The other "The Badge of Marshall Brennan" was given a private showing on December 28, 1956.
Carl wasn't just a singer, he wrote or co-wrote a number of his hit tunes also including such tunes as:
At one time in his career, he had a six piece band that toured with him, a personal manager and a secretary for about 275 days out of the year. By the early 1970s, he had scaled the travel down to 70 - 80 dates a year.
Carl also proved himself adept at the television medium - hosting his own show on the Canadian television network called "Country Music Hall" for about five years. During the show's run, it reportedly was ranked among the top five shows for the network.
He married June Carter, of the famed Carter Family on July 2, 1952 (another article indicates the date was July 9, 1952) and they lived in Madison, Tennessee in a secluded home on a 15-acre tract of land. The marriage took place at the home of Carl's sister in Maryville, Tennessee. An article in Hoedown Magazine featured their wedding story and hints at the obstacles that marriages face when both are performers. Interestingly enough, they both joined the Opry on the same night in April, or rather appeared on the Opry that night - we've seen some accounts that indicate that Carl did not become an official member until June. They courted what cupid had set in motion for about a year. In a hint of what may have came later, the article mentions fans enjoyed their flirting and clowning together on stage. But often, the Opry had them booked many miles apart on personal appearances. And sometimes those Saturday night Opry appearances was a rare time for them to get together. They had a daughter, born on October 15, 1955.
In several articles we find bits about Carl's home life that kept him busy outside of his music. His ranch was a working ranch, raising about a hundred cattle, selling about a hundred calves each year. He also kept a few horses and did horse shows. One of them, a cutting horse, was named the best in Illinois in 1962 by the Quarter Horse Association. Carl enjoyed the ranch life so much, that his wife Goldie joked in one interview that while he calls home each night when he's on the road performing, he was really only interested in finding out how the cattle were doing.
In 1957, Carl married Goldie Hill, also a country singer and had moved to a farm near Nashville that Carl had recently purchased. Goldie had toured herself for about five years, stating in a 1964 article that it was nice, "...but I wasn't married then and had no real responsibilities. I got into the country music field by accident." She also was quoted, "Did I quit the road because I saw other country music singers lose their husbands? I quite because Carl's a homebody and I want to stay with the children. I cannot see myself being in one place and Carl in another and the children here in Nashville without us." The 278 acres they had on their ranch was their real home life. And if they wanted to find the music scene, Nashville was just a 20-minute drive away. Carl and Goldie had two kids of their own, daughter Jori and son Carl Jr.
All in all, one has to say Carl's career and achievements belied that early comment made to a friend that he'd never find fame as there were so many Smiths in the world. His music and talents are proof that he is one Smith that will be remembered.
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