Of all the country music stars from the 'Golden Era' of the 1950s and 1960s, no star has faded from the public consciousness more than the great Carl Smith. Although he possessed a fine voice, rugged good looks, a string of huge hits under his belt—not to mention his induction in the Country Music Hall Of Fame, Carl Smith is largely forgotten today. This compilation seeks to rectify that situation.
Perhaps it is the insatiable demand for drama and tragedy that has led to the adulation for outlaws like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Johnny Paycheck. In the case of Carl Smith, retiring to a 500-acre ranch south of Nashville does not make for juicy gossip, and may begin to explain why Smith is such an obscure figure today.
Carl Smith was born near Maynardville, Tennessee, on March 15, 1927. Growing up on the family farm, Smith was the youngest of eight children. Credit must be given to the determination of Smith's parents, Dock and Ina Monroe Smith—the first seven children were girls, but they wanted a boy. Another Maynardville resident, Roy Acuff, began making noise on Knoxville radio in the mid-1930s. Another future star, Chet Atkins, came from nearby Lutrell, and was also beginning to make a name for himself (playing with Bill Carlisle) over Knoxville radio. Young Carl Smith grew up listening to these men, and by the time he was ten years old, he got his first guitar. After taking guitar instruction through an outfit called 'Beale's Guitar Courses,' Smith was smitten with a desire to play music.
Even today, it would be unusual for a thirteen-year-old boy to take the bus by himself to go perform on the radio every week, but that's exactly what the driven young Carl Smith did, gathering more experience any place he could. Carl did so as much as he could throughout his high school years, before enlisting in the Navy. Carl hoped that he could get into the Special Services entertaining the troops, but the Navy felt he could do a better job supervising a mess hall. He spent most of his stint in the Navy making trips to and from the Philippines on a transport ship named the 'USS Admiral Sims.'
Upon his return to Tennessee, Carl returned to his radio work, and soon began working with the most popular act in Knoxville at the time, Molly O'Day and her Cumberland Mountain Folks. Carl built up lots of experience with O'Day, playing rhythm guitar, upright bass, and singing. After O'Day and her husband gave up music to run a family grocery, Carl spent a year plagued with failure and self-doubt. The year of 1947 was spent returning to the family farm and planting tobacco, then traveling carpetbagger-style to Asheville, North Carolina; Wilmington, North Carolina; and Augusta, Georgia before returning once again to the family farm in Maynardville. Despite a December, 1947 recording date in Nashville with Molly O'Day, things looked bleak during this time for Carl Smith.
Mid-1948 found O'Day and her group coming out of their short retirement, and they asked Carl to rejoin, an offer he eagerly accepted. Carl also began working with future 'Hee Haw' star Archie Campbell's group around the same time. It was a good time to be working in Knoxville, as the town was a hotbed of talent. The Louvin Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Maybelle Carter and The Carter Family and many others worked the Knoxville radio circuit, and all of them knew Carl and were impressed with his budding talent. Knoxville eventually became enough of a hotbed to attract Nashville talent scouts, and it was through a series of small, steady steps that a Dobro player named Speedy Krise and an A&R man named Troy Martin played crucial roles in Carl's big career break.
George 'Speedy' Krise was the Dobro player in Archie Campbell's band, and was also a budding songwriter with a few minor hits under his belt. Speedy could write a good song, but he couldn't sing his own songs well enough to pitch them to major artists. As a result, Speedy hired Carl to sing on the demo acetate records of his songs. Troy Martin was a former recording artist who represented Peer-Southern publishing in Nashville. He'd formed an alliance with Don Law of Columbia Records to scout the hottest radio areas of the country looking for new talent. Martin came to Knoxville and was sufficiently impressed with Carl's voice that he took some of Krise's acetates back to Nashville with the intent of getting Carl a Columbia recording contract.