Born 7 February 1933, Humphreys County, Mississippi
Warren Smith had one of the purest voices, particularly for country music. His recordings for the Sun label (1956-59) were musically successful, but commercially far less so, limited to a few local chart entries and a fleeting entry into the Hot 100. Switching from rockabilly to country, he finally had some chart success on Liberty in the early 1960s, but a hard life on the road saw him turning to drugs and alcohol, followed by an early death.
Warrenís parents divorced when he was young and he was raised by his grandparents in Louise, Mississippi. After his discharge from the Air Force in 1952 he was determined to make a career out of music and headed north to Memphis. By 1955 he was singing with Clyde Leoppard and the Snearly Ranch Boys at the Cotton Club in West Memphis, Arkansas. One night Sam Phillips and Johnny Cash came by to check him out. Cash offered him a song he had written (or purchased from George Jones, according to some) called "Rock 'n' Roll Ruby". It became Smithís first single for Sun Records, issued in March 1956, and stormed to the top of the Memphis charts, although there was no national chart action. Several cover versions hit the market. Warren quit Clyde Leoppardís band and formed his own group with Al Hopson on guitar, Marcus Van Story on bass and Jimmie Lott on drums.
The next single was "Ubangi Stomp", written by Charles Underwood, with lyrics that bordered on racist. Now considered a rockabilly classic, it had sold only a disappointing 38,000 copies by the end of 1956. But the third Sun 45, "So Long Iím Gone" (from the pen of Roy Orbison) entered the Billboard pop charts in June 1957, peaking at # 72. It had the misfortune to start breaking at the same time as "Whole Lotta Shakiní Goiní On". Sam Phillips began to focus his attention on Jerry Lee Lewis, thus alienating Warren and other Sun artists like Carl Perkins and Billy Riley. In December 1957 Sun released the fourth Warren Smith single, a cover of Slim Harpoís "Got Love If You Want It", with great guitar work by Al Hopson and Roland Janes. According to Sunís royalty statements, the record had sold only 7,000 copies by June 1958. Smith, who wanted recognition badly, began to lose the faith. One of his best rockers, "Uranium Rock", was held in the can and wouldnít be released until 1973. One more single came out on Sun after a long hiatus, a cover of Don Gibsonís "Sweet Sweet Girl" (February 1959). Billboard called it "ultra commercial", but it died soon due to Sam Phillipsís neglect. A frustrated Smith left Sun because of lack of releases, royalties and promotion. Besides, he preferred to sing country and had never really felt at ease doing rock n roll.
Smith moved to California, where he cut three singles for Warner Bros in 1959. Then he signed with Liberty, who were just setting up a new country division. Between 1960 and 1964 he made some VERY country records by the standards of the day, featuring prominent twin fiddles and a steel guitar (Ralph Mooney), as if the Nashville Sound had never happened. At last he began having regular chart success, with seven country hits on Liberty, the biggest being "I Donít Believe Iíll Fall In Love Today" (# 5, his first 45 on the label, released March 1960). Liberty also issued an LP in 1961, consisting mostly of covers of recent country hits. There is an undeniable sameness to all these Liberty productions, pleasant as they are. During this time he also performed on the Gran Ole Opry for two years. In 1965 Warren was involved in a near fatal car accident which forced him off the road for almost a year. He had to learn to walk all over again.
After Liberty there were one-off singles on Skill (1966) and Mercury (1968). Then his problems with substance abuse got out of hand and made him land in prison in Huntsville, Alabama, for eighteen months.
With the exception of three singles for Jubal Records in 1972-73 there were no further studio sessions in the 1970s, until the European rockabilly revival caught up with him. A new album was recorded and in April 1977 Warren was invited (along with Charlie Feathers, Buddy Knox and Jack Scott) to appear in a show in Londonís Rainbow Theatre. Not knowing what to expect, Smith accepted the gig with some reservations. He was stunned by the reception that awaited him. For the first time in his life he received a standing ovation, although he was ill prepared and barely remembered the words to his songs. A second European tour followed in November 1978, again with great success. Here finally was the recognition that had eluded him for so many years. But his fame as a born- again rockabilly singer didnít last long. While preparing for his third European tour, Warren Smith died of a massive heart attack on January 31, 1980, aged only 46.
More info : http://www.rockabillyhall.com/warrensmith.html
Discography / sessionography :
Recommended CDís :
Acknowledgements : Colin Escott, Martin Hawkins, Hank Davis, Craig Morrison.
Dik, March 2015
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