Peer Tribute: Johnny Smith, 1922-2013

September 5, 2013

The passing of Johnny Smith brought back some fond memories. Back in 1980, I started helping out on Guitar Corner, a Saturday radio show on station CJAD in Montreal. We’d feature a guitar player, play some of his or her music, and discuss influences, equipment, and so on. My task for one show was to dig up all the info I could find on Johnny Smith so that we could feature him the following week. I’d heard that he had a music store in Colorado Springs, so I called, and, much to my surprise, he answered the phone. Once I explained my purpose, he was very open and willing to chat with me for about 30 minutes. Later in the week, I needed to clarify some facts and I called him again. He willingly gave me all the info requested. The show went on, and I felt we did a good job. We sent him a copy of the air check and he thanked us.

In September 1981, I had to go to Colorado Springs on business, and found the time to stop by Johnny’s store. I got to spend a few hours with him, just chatting and having him show me around. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. On the wall was his personal Gibson Johnny Smith guitar. He took it down and let me play it. I told him there was no way I could play in front of him, so he let me sit in a corner of the store and play his guitar unamplified. Then, he went in the back and came out with his D’Angelico, which he handed over to me so I could try it out. What an amazing experience. I later bought one of his books—which he signed for me. He also let me take this photo of him and his D’Angelico. Johnny was a great guitar player and a real gentleman. I’ll miss him.

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