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Who Cal Smith
What Cal Smith, voice of 'Country Bumpkin' and other hits, dies at age 81
When October 10, 2013
Where Branson, MO

Calvin Grand Shofner -- known professionally as Cal Smith, and famed for top-charting hits Country Bumpkin, The Lord Knows I'm Drinking and It's Time To Pay the Fiddler -- died Thursday in Branson, Mo., at age 81.

Born in Gans, Okla., Smith grew up in the San Jose, Calif., area, and became a popular disc jockey prior to joining Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours as a rhythm guitarist in 1962. Smith worked with Tubb until 1968, when he became a solo performer.

In 1972, he recorded Bill Anderson's The Lord Knows I'm Drinking, which became a No. 1 country hit for Decca Records. In 1974, Smith scored with Country Bumpkin, which became the Country Music Association's song and single of the year and the Academy of Country Music's song of the year.

Don Wayne wrote Country Bumpkin, after being critiqued by a publishing industry professional as being too country: Nobody wants to hear about that frost on the pumpkin, was the criticism. Wayne wrote of a man who met a woman who teased him, "Hello, country bumpkin/ How's the frost out on the pumpkin?"

"And then the story just unfolded," Wayne told author Philip Self in Guitar Pull: Conversations With Country's Legendary Songwriters. "I thought to myself, 'Man, I've stumbled on to a hit song here.' But after thinking about it further, I thought, 'This could be more than a hit song. This could be a great song, if I write what I'm seeing.'"

Wayne wrote what he was seeing, and Smith's vocal on the song was relaxed and authentic.

Country Music Hall of Famer Garth Brooks sang Country Bumpkin for years in his sound checks, and he has called Smith's recording of Country Bumpkin his favorite country single. In 1994, Smith presented Brooks with his Academy of Country Music Award for Country Bumpkin, and Brooks displayed that trophy in his home. Country Bumpkin was a huge country hit, as was 1975's It's Time to Pay the Fiddler. Smith also scored Top 20 hits with 1972's I've Found Someone of My Own, 1974's Between Lust and Watching TV, 1975's She Talked a Lot About Texas and Jason's Farm, and 1977's I Just Came Home to Count the Memories.

Smith also figured into Loretta Lynn's Grammy-grabbing new-century career revival. Lynn's album returned her to mainstream prominence, and single Portland, Oregon was a duet between Lynn and rocker/producer Jack White. That song was spurred by a Portland night where she and Smith ordered drinks at a Holiday Inn. According to Lynn's memoir, Still Woman Enough, the evening ended innocently, but Smith's drink suggestion was enough to inspire the song's opening couplet: "Well, Portland, Oregon, and sloe gin fizz/ If that ain't love than tell me what is."

Smith's last charting single came in 1986 with King Lear.

His later years were spent with his wife, Darlene. He is survived by his wife, five children and 15 great-grandchildren.

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Contact Peter Cooper
The Tennessean


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