A link between the Western swing of the 1940s and the rockabilly of the 1950s, Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith was one of country music's seminal figures. In addition to inspiring several generations of country musicians via his regional television program The Arthur Smith Show, which aired from 1951 to 1982 and was the first syndicated country music show, Smith wrote and recorded some of country music's most influential tunes. His fiery instrumental "Guitar Boogie," recorded with the Tennessee Ramblers, has often been cited as the first rock & roll song. Released on October 23, 1948, the single sold nearly three million copies and reached number 25 on the Billboard pop charts. It was subsequently transformed into a Top Five hit, "Guitar Boogie Shuffle," by Frank Virtue & His Virtuoso Trio in 1959.
Smith composed more than 500 songs, including many other hits. "Feudin' Banjos," co-written in 1955 with bluegrass banjo player Don Reno, was renamed "Dueling Banjos" and featured in the film Deliverance without permission. Suing for rights infringement, he won the case. Additional songs by Smith were covered by such country artists as Johnny Cash and Randy Travis. Willie Nelson featured Smith's song "Red Headed Stranger" as the title track of one of his most successful albums.
Smith first surfaced in the mid-'40s as the leader of a Dixieland-influenced group the Crackerjacks and a gospel group, the Crossroads Quartet. He supplemented his income as a musician by hosting a show on 100,000-watt radio station WBT. The owner of a recording studio in Charlotte, North Carolina, Smith oversaw recordings by such artists as James Brown and Johnny Cash. Smith died at home in Charlotte in April 2014, two days after his 93rd birthday. ~ Craig Harris