TRUE STORY ABOUT RAY SMITH
Raymond Eugene Smith was born on 30 October 1934 in Melber, Kentucky not far from the town of Paducah. He once described his childhood as, "happy, very
sad, poor, and a will to rise above it''. He told: "I was born in the midst of nowhere, thirteen miles west of Paducah out in the country. My dad was a sharecropper and a sheet metal worker. He also worked for the
atomic bomb plant in Paducah, organised by former Vice President Barkley. As a kid. I delivered Barkley's newspapers the 'Paducah Sun Democrat'''.
Ray was the seventh child in a large family but somehow his mother found the time to teach him the rudiments of piano playing and to encourage an interest in music. When he had first started school,
he went with a recommendation from his mother that he could sing: soon he was persuaded to get up and sing in class, at age six. He later told interviewer Dave Booth. ''I didn't want to do it. Felt like a goddamn fool''.
He didn't have a long or very consistent schooling: "My family and I moved from Melber to County Line Road where we lived at Mr
Dowell's farm and from there we moved out in the country close to Mayfield. Kentucky, then to St. John's and another farm on Highway 45 halfway between Paducah and Mayfield. At that time I was nine years old. From there we moved
to Lone Oak, west of Paducah, where I attended school for the fourth to eighth grade. My father bought a farm called Pepper's Farm seven miles north of Lone Oak, but by then I had left home - at the age of twelve. After that,
my father sold the farm and moved to Paducah. I visited there frequently while working as a helper on a Coca-Cola truck.
Somehow his reputation as a singer stayed with Ray throughout his disrupted and troubled formative years, and not only in school. It followed him through his after-school job as a waiter at Price's Barbecue, through
his early employment in the local Coca-Cola bottling plant, to the International Shoe Company where his job was to stick the soles to the uppers. Tired of these kinds of tasks, and not yet thinking of music as a career, Ray Smith
the reluctant singer decided in 1952 to join the Air Force. He said, "I joined on July 22, 1952, and had my basic training at Sampson Air Force Base and then transferred to Fort Knox, KY".
After initial training in Kentucky, Smith was posted to California in 1953. His girlfriend. Lillie, followed him west and they were married there in 1953, moving into married quarters at
George Air Force Base, Victorville, California. Once again, the story that he was a musician and singer followed Ray Smith, and by now he was taking a real interest in the idea himself. He recalled that his first paid singing job was
in Nora's Desert Inn near Barstow in 1953 where he formed a little group in which he played guitar and sang country songs.
included Armand Whitman, brother of the emerging singing star Slim Whitman, and Lee Standerford. Soon the men in his unit encouraged Ray to compete in a forces talent show. He sang ''Lovesick Blues'', and won. He told Dave Booth, "I was strictly
a country music fan. I loved Eddy Arnold, Marty Robbins, Faron Young''.
He may even have been a fan of country singer
Ray Smith, a Californian twenty years older than our Ray, who became a radio star in New York in the 1940s and who recorded on the major label, Columbia, as well as on Coral, London (as Hank Dalton), National, Continental, and
other smaller labels. Our Ray would not, though, have heard of a a young Oklahoman about to embark on a career under the names of Ray Smith and David Ray, known for his rocking recording of ''Jitterbuggin' Baby''. So there was more than
one Ray Smith. but no others with the talent of our man.
The early days of rockabilly and rock and roll almost passed
our Ray Smith by. He was posted to Chambley Air Force Base near Metz in northeastern France in 1954 for a year and a half, where he lived off base with Lillie and would play country music on weekends and in the evenings. Eventually
someone brought a copy of an unusual record to his attention: Ray remembered, "When I was in Metz. I heard Elvis Presley's first record. thought it was shit; I wasn't used to that kind of material, I guess''.
What Ray was used to, apart from Eddy Arnold and Hank Williams and the sounds of Nashville as filtered through Paducah radio, were jazzy popular songs of the
kind he heard performed over the radio by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He found that his relatively deep voice was more suited to the relaxed style of Eddy Arnold than the keen strains of Hank Williams and, even within country
music, he was developing a style based around heavy ballads. At the same time, though, he was also becoming converted to the new sound of rock and roll and trying to figure out how he could be picked up and carried to success by its developing momentum.
Returning to Paducah as a civilian in June 1956 with the aim of starting a career in music, he formed Ray Smith and the Rock & Roll
Boys and played in clubs around the Paducah area. The Boys were James Webb, a bass player from Bardwell, Kentucky, Dean Perkins, a guitarist and steel player from Mayfield, Kentucky, guitarist Raymond Jones from Bardwell, and Henry Stevens
from the small town with the big name, Metropolis, Illinois on drums.
Sandy Smith, a hometown friend of Ray's wife, said: "I have
known Lillie since I was a teenager and Ray was playing every Friday night at the National Guard Armory His nickname for me was 'Bones' because I was so skinny Ray was also very thin''.
Ray Smith remembered the early days. ''We did mostly one-nighters, concerts and night clubs in Kentucky Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee. Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, California,
as many states as there are in the USA ... we worked them all. My first radio show was on WMOK, Metropolis, IL. Ed Hills was the announcer and it was the original Ray Smith and the Rock and Roll Boys''. Then I had a radio show in Benton, KY.
I also had my own TV show for two and a half years on WPSD, channel six, in Paducah. My announcer was Bill Green. My original sponsor was Beardsley Chevrolet, of Bardwell, KY. We aired every Monday night from 7:00-7:30pm and later
on Wednesday from 8:00-8:30: also I was contracted to do my own show on Channel seven in Evansville, Indiana on Saturday afternoons''.
So Ray Smith was an emerging star on his own terms in his own local world. Enter the man with the big cigar. In Ray's case, the catalyst who took him from Metropolis to national TV and from small clubs to Sun Records was Charlie
Terrell, the owner of C. W. Terrell Lime Corporation of Sikeston, Missouri. Terrell had his fingers in pies other than lime, and he was always keen to make a buck in a new venture. Not a stranger to controversy - he took out an ad
in the 'Sikeston Herald' of July 22, 1954 disassociating himself with a former employee - Terrell was also something of a local patron of good causes, and he soon decided that Ray Smith was a really good cause who could make them both
Charlie Terrell told: ''I had a trucking business, and my involvement in the music business came about gradually.
One of my truck drivers, Onie Wheeler, was a budding musician and singer and he came to me and needed some financial help to get on in the music business. I helped him with that and we got him onto OKeh Records, and I just sort of became his manager.
Eventually I started to promote shows for him and for other performers. I booked Onie out with Elvis Presley and I booked Presley into shows here in Sikeston. Gradually it all became a bigger deal than it started out to be. I was supposed to
be the lime man''.
''One day I saw Ray Smith on a local TV show out of Paducah. He was playing guitar and singing and he had
a little band over there. I thought he had talent, and the next week I drove up there and asked him if he had a manager and whether he wanted to get on in his career. He said, sure, did you eversee anybody that wouldn't. 'So I signed
him right there at the TV station'', recalled Terrell.
Ray Smith didn't recall it being such a cut and dried deal.
He was busy with radio and TV work even without a proper manager. He described how Terrell, ''kept asking me 'When can I meet you for discussion regarding management and a recording contract' and he came to my home
three times, and on the third time I drove into my driveway and there was a car sitting in front of my home. The man got out of the car with an attache casein his hand, walked up to me and said 'Are you Ray Smith? I'm Charlie Terrell
and this is the third time I've been here. 'We talked business and he said 'If I can get you a contract on a leading label, will you sign with me as your manager? 'I said 'Yes', and just three days later he returned from Memphis,
Tennessee with a contract from Sun Records signed by Sam Phillips. I thought, 'this is my man''.
''I decided to take Ray Smith to Sam Phillips at Sun because knew Sam through booking Elvis and Onie Wheeler. I knew his label was hot and working in the big time. I thought that he would promote Ray Smith well. So I took
an audiotape from one of Ray's TV shows to play for Sam. It was some Elvis songs and some other rock and roll and ballads. It was just before Christmas and one of Ray's songs was ''Christmas Time Pretty Baby'',
and Sam just flipped over that. Sam was smart - he knew when he heard talent, and he signed Ray to Sun straight away on the first visit''.
It was probably in January 1958 that Ray Smith first set foot in Memphis and in the Sun studio. It was a strange day - Ray had signed for a label he'd never visited and Sam Phillips had signed an artist
he'd never met - and it culminated with the two men turning up at a demo session not being able to recognise each other. Charlie Terrell laughed at the memory: ''At that first session, neither knew who the other was. I had
taken Ray down to Memphis shortly after getting him signed, with his band, and we did some songs as a run-through to show Sam exactly what Ray could do. One was ''I Want To Be Free'- that was an early one Ray did''.
By now, Ray Smith was a paid-up convert to the Presley style of rock and roll. He told Dave Booth, ''I got to like his music.
Even got to meet him. Played pool at his house''. This definitely had an influence on the sort of music Smith recorded at Sun during 1958 and 1959. Apart from the unissued attempts at a Presley song, ''I Want To Be Free'',
written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller for the movie ''Jailhouse Rock'' and issued by Presley on an extended play disc in October 1957 - the influence was more in Ray's vocal delivery and, like Presley, he proved
very adept at recording both fast, wild songs and more measured rockaballads. Like everyone else at Sun, Ray was subjected to the Sam Phillips lecture about the importance of feeling over pure technicality, and he was asked
to record songs by Sun's in-house group of engineers and musicians; particularly Charlie Rich, Jack Clement and Stanley Kesler.
Charlie Terrell confirmed the sequence of events: ''Along with ''I Want To Be Free'', Ray had a song called ''Little Girl'' that he wanted to record. But we were down there for two or three days, and
the next day Sam brought in Charlie Rich to play piano and Jack Clement to make the recordings. Charlie Rich had some songs and they all wanted Ray to do his songs. There was ''Break Up'' and ''So Young'', and some others.
Then, after that they brought in Stan Kesler to play on sessions. We had met Stan a little earlier when we recorded Onie Wheeler, and soon Stan was our buddy, and he had some songs for Ray ''Two Pennies And A String'' was his
song, an early one that I thought was going to be a record''.
As far as can be pieced together from Sun's recording logs and tape
boxes, Ray Smith made recordings in January and March 1958 and from these emerged his first record, the classy rocker ''So Young'' coupled with the all-out screamer ''Right Behind You Baby'', issued on April 9,
1958 on Sun 298.
The initial demo sessions of January 10, 1958, featured Ray's own band, Stanley Walker and Dean Perkins,
guitarists, James Webb on bass, and drummer Gary Diamond, along with Sun's staff pianist Charlie Rich. Webb and Diamond had replaced Jones and Stevens in the band. The earliest surviving Ray Smith recordings seem to be a version of Carl
Perkins' ''Forever Yours'', where Ray's vocal performance hovers somewhere right in between Presley, Perkins, and Buddy Holly, and where Dean Perkins plays steel guitar, ''I Want To Be Free'', and ''Little Girl''.
These were followed within a few days by the Charlie Rich songs ''Why Why Why'' and ''Breakup''. Lead guitarist Stanley Walker
was the main man in the band and remained present through all Smith's early Sun sessions, The other musicians were also fairly constant but (here were some changes in personnel with Stan Kesler and Jimmy Van Eaton taking bass and drums from
Webb and Diamond on occasion.
After the January sessions, those of early March 1958 seem to have focused on yet more cuts
of ''Break Up'' along with ''So Young'', ''Right Behind You Baby'', and the storming threesome of ''You Made A Hit'', ''Willing And Ready'', and ''Shake Around'', all with a shooting, steely guitar sound effect. They probably also included
Stan Kesler's song, ''Two Pennies And A String'', found on its own in a tape box marked 'Ray Rockin Smythe and his Rocking Rockers'. The box - but not the contents - could have been the one in which Charlie Terrell submitted
Ray's TV show demos, and on which the name of Ray and his band had been recorded wrongly, but more likely the phrase was a kind of joke by Sun's engineers and producers Jack Clement and Bill Justis.
Ray Smith enjoyed the loose and jokey atmosphere at Sun. He told Dave Booth: "On ''So Young'' I remember Charlie Rich was on piano. The intro and the ending
was the same and I remember we faded out on that damned thing. After we'd faded, Charlie was still sitting there playing his lick. Everybody had done stopped and Sam yelled; Charlie, we're done. We're finished!' Charlie was feeling
good. He'd reach up, get a drink, never miss a lick'''.
Considering that it was issued in a batch of discs that included Jerry Lee
Lewis's ''High School Confidential'' and Johnny Cash's ''Guess Things Happen That Way''. Ray's first Sun disc gained good reviews and good publicity. Billboard said of So Young that it was, "a good, robust sound on a rockabilly
tune with typical 'Sun sound" by a strong talent''. The review compared ''Right Behind You Baby'' to Presley's discs and said it was "another fine side by a talented newcomer."
There had been some confusion about what the first Ray Smith record would be. Masters of ''So Young'' and ''Break Up'' were pulled from the session tapes, placed in a separate
box, and marked for release on April 10, but these were not in fact issued and ''Right Behind You Baby'' was substituted for ''Break Up''. Charlie Terrell remembered: ''Ray did ''Break Up'' and it was all
ready for his first single release but then Jerry Lee Lewis heard Ray's tape and he decided that he wanted the song. He had some influence there with Sam, and Sam let Jerry Lee have it. We were ticked off about that I can
tell you''. Lewis's version was issued that August, and it was also recorded by its writer, Charlie Rich.
was satisfied with ''So Young'' in the end. He said: "So Young'' put me on the 'Dick Clark Show' at the Little Theatre in New York City, which lead to other TV shows such as 'American Bandstand' and other shows all over the
nation''. To be more precise, it was Jud Phillips who put Ray on those shows.
Charlie Terrell said: ''As soon as Ray
had made his first sessions, we met Sams brother, Jud, who was in charge of promotion for the label. He was a wonderful promotion man and he got Ray onto the Dick Clark TV show in Philadelphia, 'Dance Party', before anyone
had ever heard of Ray Smith. He promoted his first record, ''So Young'', on that show. Jud just had a way about him when it came to getting people to take notice''.
So, too, did Ray Smith have a way about him. Don Hindman, his stepbrother recalled: ''I was home from the Air Force on leave. I had a red and white 1957 Chevy with red and black interior
back then, and had bought a new red and black shirt with ruffles on the front to go with the interior of the car. Well, when I returned to Andrews air force base. I looked for my shirt and could not find it. I had left it at home
right? Not. Ray showed tip on 'American Bandstand' and guess what he was wearing? Yep, my shirt''.
A more important
prop for Ray's live appearances and TV slots was his bandleader, Stanley Walker. Charlie Terrell confirmed: "Ray always had his guitar player. Stanley Walker with him on shows, even things like Dick Clark's show in Philadelphia.
Stan was the basic of the band and he was always there with Ray, always''. It was Walker who contributed the zippy guitar runs and figures on many Ray Smith recordings, including the rockers ''Willing And Ready'' and
''Shake Around'', unissued back at the time, recorded in March 1958.
In May, another Ray Smith session yielded a range of different
styles but little that saw the light of day at the time. Further recordings of a ballad, ''Why Why Why'' were made at the time. along with a northern-influenced pop-rocker, ''Life Is The Flower''.
Ray Smith recalled those sessions fondly. They would often last all night. He told Dave Booth, ''I won $100 off Sam Phillips one time.
This was four or five in the morning and we were betting on the first song Hank Williams ever sung on the Opry. I told him it was ''Lovesick Blues'' and Sam said, 'Hell no, It was Mansion On The Hill''.
I said, Bullshit! Sam said, ''I'll bet you $100' and I said, 'You're on.' So Sam goes and phones Audrey Williams in Nashville. I said, 'I'm gonna get on the other extension', because I knew Audrey
and had backed her up on country shows. Sam said 'Audrey, I'm sitting here with Ray Smith and we got $100 bet on the first song Hank ever sung on the Opry''. She said it was ''Lovesick Blues'', 'and
Sam said 'Godamn it, Audrey, you just cost me &100 and he told Sally to go write out a cheque for $100. I shoulda taken that son-of-a-bitch and framed it. But I didn't - I spent it! But Sam is a hell
of a guy. Crazy! He'd go a week without shaving. Damned nice guy, though. Started us all".