Calvin Grand Shofner -- known professionally as Cal Smith, and famed
for top-charting hits Country Bumpkin, The Lord Knows I'm Drinking and It's Time To Pay the Fiddler --
died Thursday in Branson, Mo., at age 81.
Born in Gans, Okla., Smith grew up in the San Jose, Calif., area,
and became a popular disc jockey prior to joining Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours
as a rhythm guitarist in 1962. Smith worked with Tubb until 1968, when he became a solo performer.
In 1972, he recorded Bill Anderson's The Lord Knows I'm Drinking, which
became a No. 1 country hit for Decca Records. In 1974, Smith scored with Country Bumpkin,
which became the Country Music Association's song and single of the
year and the Academy of Country Music's song of the year.
Don Wayne wrote Country Bumpkin, after being critiqued by a publishing industry professional
as being too country: Nobody wants to hear about that frost on the pumpkin, was the
criticism. Wayne wrote of a man who met a woman who teased him, "Hello, country bumpkin/
How's the frost out on the pumpkin?"
"And then the story just unfolded," Wayne told author Philip Self in Guitar Pull:
Conversations With Country's Legendary Songwriters. "I thought to myself, 'Man, I've stumbled
on to a hit song here.' But after thinking about it further, I thought, 'This could
be more than a hit song. This could be a great song, if I write what I'm seeing.'"
Wayne wrote what he was seeing, and Smith's vocal on the song was relaxed and authentic.
Country Music Hall of Famer Garth Brooks sang Country Bumpkin for
years in his sound checks, and he has called Smith's recording of Country Bumpkin
his favorite country single. In 1994, Smith presented Brooks with his Academy of Country
Music Award for Country Bumpkin, and Brooks displayed that trophy in his home. Country Bumpkin
was a huge country hit, as was 1975's It's Time to Pay the Fiddler. Smith also
scored Top 20 hits with 1972's I've Found Someone of My Own, 1974's Between Lust and Watching TV,
1975's She Talked a Lot About Texas and Jason's Farm, and 1977's I Just Came Home to Count the Memories.
Smith also figured into Loretta Lynn's Grammy-grabbing new-century career revival. Lynn's album
returned her to mainstream prominence, and single Portland, Oregon was a duet between
Lynn and rocker/producer Jack White. That song was spurred by a Portland night
where she and Smith ordered drinks at a Holiday Inn. According to Lynn's memoir,
Still Woman Enough, the evening ended innocently, but Smith's drink suggestion
was enough to inspire the song's opening couplet: "Well, Portland, Oregon, and
sloe gin fizz/ If that ain't love than tell me what is."
Smith's last charting single came in 1986 with King Lear.
His later years were spent with his wife, Darlene. He is survived by his wife, five children
and 15 great-grandchildren.
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