Musician. Thanks to the widespread popularity of his instrumental hit “Guitar Boogie,” Arthur Smith became one of the better-known guitarists in country music. Born in Clinton on April 1, 1921, Smith also played fiddle and other instruments and is sometimes confused with central Tennessee’s Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith and the eastern Tennessee songwriter Arthur Q. Smith.
Like many other South Carolina musicians, Smith was a product of the textile mills, where his father worked as a loom fixer and musical director in the town of Kershaw. Smith followed his father into mill work at an early age and also shared his musical interests. His initial interest had been in horn music, but he also learned guitar and turned to electric instruments early in his career. He started a Dixieland jazz band and played at WSPA Spartanburg, but the group had little success until switching to country music–although still somewhat jazz influenced– Smith’s Carolina Crackerjacks. In the fall of 1938 they had a record session for Bluebird at Rock Hill, where they waxed their best-known song, “Going Back to Old Carolina.”
Midway through World War II, Smith transferred his radio base to WBT Charlotte, where he filled in with both the Briarhoppers and the Tennessee Ramblers. He made the first recording of “Guitar Boogie” with the Ramblers about 1945. Reforming the Crackerjacks after the war, Smith and his band became regulars on radio for many years and from 1951 on WBTV as well, recording periodically for MGM, Dot, Starday, Monument, and CMH. In addition to “Guitar Boogie,” he had major hits with “Banjo Boogie” and “Boomerang,” all in 1948.
During the1950s and 1960s Smith became the dominant figure on the Charlotte music scene with both daily and weekly television programs. His shows were syndicated in several markets. In addition to showcasing his own talents, The Arthur Smith Show featured other artists, including his brothers, Ralph and Sonny Smith; Ray and Lois Atkins; the banjoists Don Reno, a native of Spartanburg, and David Deese; and the singer-guitarist Tommy Faile, a native of Lancaster, South Carolina. Ironically, he enjoyed only one hit in this era, a comic parody of the Australian song “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” rewritten as “Tie My Hunting Dog Down, Jed,” in 1963.
Smith’s compositions had a way of reappearing in modified form years later. “Guitar Boogie” became a pop hit for the Virtues in 1959 as “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” and again for the Ventures in 1962 as “Guitar Twist.” The British guitarist Bert Weedon had a hit with it in the United Kingdom. A lesser number at the time in 1955, “Feudin’ Banjos,” by Smith and Don Reno, reappeared as “Mocking Banjos” in 1957 and as “Dueling Banjos” by Eric Weisberg and Steve Mandel in the 1972 hit film Deliverance. Smith and Reno went to court and received royalties.
In 1959 Smith started a recording studio in Charlotte, which produced jingles and commercials for regional radio and television. His studio also recorded numerous country, sacred, and bluegrass titles and even a soul hit for James Brown. Smith’s musical and business career enabled him to retire in relative comfort as “a leading citizen of the Charlotte community.” Nonetheless, he remains best remembered for his jazz-influenced electric-guitar dexterity.
Smith, Michael B. Carolina Dreams: The Musical Legacy of Upstate South Carolina. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Marshall Tucker Entertainment, 1997.