Country guitarist Arthur Smith — who took on Warner Bros and won when the studio used a cover version of his "Feudin' Banjos" as "Dueling Banjos" in the 1972 film Deliverance — died at 93 years old on April 3.
Smith became an influential guitar player in country and early rock and roll after his breakthrough hit, "Guitar Boogie," hit the airwaves in 1948. (Paul McCartney reportedly attempted a less-than-stellar performance of "Guitar Boogie" when auditioning for the band that became the Beatles.) "Feudin' Banjos" — the subject of his landmark copyright-infringement suit—was released in 1955. Although he never disclosed how much money he’d made from the movie lawsuit, Smith once pointed to a picture of a 42-foot yacht on the wall of his office and noted Warner Bros. had bought the boat for him.
Smith’s business interests also included the first recording studio in the Carolinas. Founded in 1957, the Charlotte studio not only recorded Smith’s records, but national artists such as Johnny Cash, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Pat Boone, Ronnie Milsap, George Beverly Shea, and the Statler Brothers. In 1965, James Brown rented the studio for three hours and cut “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” which later ranked #72 on Rolling Stone’s list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."
His The Arthur Smith Show was syndicated on U.S. television for 32 years.
Born in Clinton, S.C., Smith grew up in Kershaw, where his father worked in a cotton mill and led a brass band. As a child, Smith played trumpet in the mill group and absorbed all kinds of music, from big bands to rhythm and blues and gospel and jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Around the age of six, Smith started writing his own songs, and never stopped. He played in a Dixieland group with his brothers, Ralph and Sonny, and later mastered the mandolin, fiddle and guitar, among other instruments.
Smith is survived by his wife, Dorothy, sons Clay and Reggie, daughter Connie Brown, seven grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.
Photo of Smith and Andy Griffith on the set of The Arthur Smith Show in 1973 courtesy of Arthur Smith Enterprises.
ARTHUR SMITH PLAYING "GUITAR BOOGIE"