About The Artist
We first learn of Smokey Smith from Dusti Lynn in the old National Hillbilly News publication. She told readers that Smokey was born on a farm near Kansas City, Missouri. His mother once felt that her 'soft spoken' son might grow up to be a preacher. But one day, she hear him singing and was so captured by his style that she arranged to have him take piano lessons.
But the story goes that he felt it was too complicated to play the piano with both hands and gave it up. He took up the violin for a time, but gave that up as well and eventually took up playing the guitar. He developed his own style that got him some recognition.
He began his musical journey at the age of 16 when he joined Ted West's Range Riders and was heard over radio station WREN in Lawrence, Kansas.
His career took him to the west coast where around 1948 he was doing a live show over radio station KYOR in San Diego each Saturday fromn 1:00pm to 1:30pm. At the same time he was doing records for the Crystal label. He told Dusti that Merle Travis was quite helpful to when he moved to the west coast. His band was known as the Gold Coast Boys.
In 1950, Smokey was working in the Hollywood area at teh On-The-Pike Corral and getting ready to do another recording session for the Crystal label.
Around 1951 or so, Smokey was hired by radio station KRNT in Des Moines, Iowa and given a half-hour show . The response was immediate such that the station received over 1,000 cards and letters and an additional show from 5:30am to 6:30am was added. At the time, it was thought that the combination of live entertainment and records was unique to Iowa at the time. Smokey's arrival came at a time when KRNT had not had a hillbilly music entertainer on its roster for a few years.
His morning show led to some nick names in that area. Smokey mentioned he was known as "Iowa's Alarm Clock" and "Smokey, The Wake-up Man". But he also noted that many folks probably also ended their week listening to his Saturday night show that aired from 10:30pm to 12:00 midnight called the "Hillbilly Hit Parade".
Back in the fall of 1953, Country Song Roundup got Smokey to tell its readers who he thought was going to catch on with listeners from the young entertainers starting out in that era. He mentioned names such as Marty Robbins, Jimmy Swan, Red Taylor, Boyd Bennett and Jack Cardwell.
Smokey was invited to appear on WSM's "Mr. D.J. USA" series where they brought in disc jockeys from around the country, on August 14, 1953.
As part of the annual WSM Grand Ole Opry birthday celebration each year in Nashville, a new organization was formed in 1953. The Country Music Disc Jockey Assocation was formed and Smokey Smith was named to the Board of Directors of the organization.
In 1954, Billboard published a list of the top country and western disc jockeys. Smokey was listed as number 15. The list was to be "...Disc Jockeys who, in your opinion, are doing the most honest and conscientious job..." Nelson King of WCKY topped the list. Eddie Hill of WSM was number two. Paul Kallinger of XERF, Marty Roberts of WCKY and Randy Blake of WJJD rounded out the top five. In 1955, Smokey was ranked number 13. T. Tommy Cutrer of KCIJ and WSM had made his way into the top five by this time.
Smokey became quite a promoter of country music during his tenure with KRNT, putting on shows. His posters for those shows often show up on the auction sites such as eBay. In one such show in 1956, Elvis Presley was brought to town by Smokey and only 4,000 people showed up to see him perform, leading one publication to note that Elvis "bombed" at that appearance. But it appears that the gate may have been held down by factors such as the females at St. Joseph's Academy were 'advised' not to attend ths how. The mindset at the time was that performances by Elvis were vulgar. But Smokey said he would indeed book Elvis again in the future.
An example of one such promotion was a show at the KRNT Theater in Des Moines on February 16, 1954. Smokey booked a group of artists that included BIlly Walker, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Jan Moore, Lefty Frizzell and Elton Britt to two performances with an audience of 6,550. On Saturday, February 15, 1954, the same group minus Billy Walker but also including Sonny James, Enrest Ashworth and Texas Bill Strength, played to an audience of 7,308 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Smokey put together a package show that included the Johnny Cash show, George Jones and the Jones Boys, JuneCarter, Grandpa Jones, Gordon Terry and Johnny Western that grossed over $16,000 at the KRNT Theater. Now you might think that's nothing, but consider the fact that the weather was in the midst of a bitter cold spell - temperatures were near below 13 degrees. Smokey was presented the Johnny Cash Award of Merit for his "...continued dedication to the field of country music and his ever-present sincerity and co-operation extended to the artists employed by him."
In 1958, the Country Music Disc Jockey Association met for the fourth annual meeting and voted to disband and instead, form the foundation of a new organization to be known as the "Country Music Association". The announcement was made by WMIE DJ Carcker Jim Brooker along with Smokey Smith, Dal Stallard and Connie B. Gay.
Later in 1964, Country Music Review was letting readers know that Smokey had a new release on the Cardinal record label.
Credits & Sources
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