Monday, April 14, 2014

Remembering Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith

Posted By on Mon, Apr 14, 2014 at 11:20 AM

The house band for Arthur Smith's memorial had just finished a rousing version of Smith's "Dueling Banjos" when the Avett Brothers' Scott and Seth Avett took to the stage. They were there to perform "Amazing Grace," but as they stepped to the microphone, they also began to pick out the notes to "Dueling Banjos." The brothers smiled at each other, and the audience laughed. It was another acknowledgement of just how much the influence of Arthur Smith had spanned across multiple generations.

Arthur Guitar Boogie Smith
  • Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith

Arthur Smith, who passed away on April 3, 2014, at the age of 93, was a creative force who reached far beyond his Carolina roots. Songwriter, producer, performer. He hosted the syndicated TV program The Arthur Smith Show for 32 years. In the 1960s, his Arthur Smith Studios became the recording studio of choice for many throughout the Southeast. In working on a book on the rock 'n' roll scene of North Carolina, I was surprised to learn how much of a hand Smith had in documenting that genre. Many of the records from that time were either recorded at Arthur's studio, or were released via one of his many ventures, Pyramid Records. And oh yes, he wrote "Dueling Banjos," and "Guitar Boogie," recognized as one of the first records of the sound that would evolve into what we now call Rock 'n' Roll.

Smith's memorial service at Calvary Church on April 12 was a celebration of the man and the music he created. Legendary record producer Fred T. Foster spoke of meeting Smith when he was 14-years old, and the friendship they shared for decades. George Hamilton IV and the Dove Brothers sang some of Smith's best-known gospel songs. Scott and Seth Avett's performance of "Amazing Grace" brought many in the audience to their feet. David Johnson and Dave Moody were clearly having a good time in leading the band through "Dueling Banjos," and the band welcomed more guitarists onstage to perform "Guitar Boogie."

On a personal note, one of my photos of Arthur was used during the service. I had taken the photo 10 years ago, on what proved to be the last day of taping for his long-running Carolina Calling TV show. I hadn't been hired by the TV station to work on the shows, but I knew many of the crew. I would show up as the show began taping, and blend in as Arthur taped his parts of the show. I didn't know that the Smith family had picked out one of those photos to use in the memorial. I was thrilled, and then the emotions of the day caught up with me. As I paused to gather myself, I realized that this was something all of us in the room were doing together. An occasional tear, but also comfort in celebrating the work of someone who had changed our lives. Both in knowing personally, and in listening to.

Safe travels, Arthur.

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