Released as Sun 268 on April 15, 1957, Billboard advised it's readers to "watch both of these''. Smith certainly would have been watching as the single showed great promise and in May
broke into the Hot 100 at number 72. This was the big break he'd been after and the already healthy ego must have started busting at the seams. As luck would have it, fellow Sun star Jerry Lee Lewis' second single ''Whole Lot Of Shakin' Goin' On'' had been
released the previous month and was now sitting on top of the Memphis charts.
Sensing a potential hit, Phillips and his brother Judd, got Jerry Lee a shot on national
TV. On Sunday 28th July, he performed a wild, sneering, chair throwing version of Shakin' on the Steve Allen Show. Following the show, demand for the single grew too big for Sun to cope. In order to meet the orders Sam made the decision to concentrate on Jerry
Lee and therefore ending any chances of ''So Long I'm Gone'' going any further.
Smith was numbstruck and apparently became so outraged at hearing the Jerry Lee hit all
the time on the radio that he started smashing any copies he came across. According to Jimmie Lott "Warren was an egotist - the biggest egotist I've ever met. A caring man and a good man, but an egotist. Warren wanted recognition.
He painted WARREN SMITH - THE ROCK AND ROLL RUBY MAN on the back of his car - a seven or eight thousand dollar Cadillac sedan''.
returned to the Sun studio in October and with Hopson and Janes working in perfect harmony, cut a brilliant version of Slim Harpo's ''Got Love If You Want It''. With a tender ballad from the pen of Hopson, ''I Fell In Love'', on the flip, Sun 286 was released
in December. This same month, Sun also released Johnny Cash (''Ballad Of A Teenage Queen''/''Big River''), Sonny Burgess (''My Bucket's Got A Hole In It''), Roy Orbison (''Chicken- Hearted'') and Carl Perkins (''Glad All Over''). However, it was to be old
sparring partner Jerry Lee Lewis that caused the problems again, as this time he was riding high with ''Great Balls Of Fire''. Again, promotion of Smith was limited and resulted in a poultry seven thousand copies being sold. The wheels were starting to come
off and bass man Marcus Van Story quit, being replaced by Will Hopson, brother of guitarist Al. Lott had also had his namesake and for future shows, drummers were picked up from local bands. Smith also parted company with Stars Inc. and handed over his bookings
to the Charlotte based G.D. Kemper who immediately fixed up some dates in Canada with cowboy Lash Larue. An appearance on the influential Ed Sullivan Show was a step in the right direction but then Kemper severed contacts with Smith following the latter's
booking his own dates in Maryland.
Musically, he was still producing great stuff like ''Uranium Rock'', ''Golden Rocket'', ''Dear John'' and ''Do I Love''. On January
7th 1959, Smith went into the studio with Billy Lee Riley and Sid Manker (guitars), Cliff Acred (bass), Charlie Rich (piano) and the great Jimmy Van Eaton (drums). The results were as good as one would expect from such a line-up. Both the perfect ''Goodbye
Mr Love'' and the poppy, chorus laden ''Sweet Sweet Girl'' were ideal for the time and in mid-February they were released as Sun 314. Billboard again enthused "Chances are Warren Smith'll have the top money-making record of his career in this Sun outing. One
end, a top drawer, middle beat country offering finds Warren sadly singing "Goodbye Mr Love". On the other half, a terrific Don Gibson-penned, all-market rocker, Smith sez that his ex-gal was a "Sweet, Sweet Girl" to him. Great vocal and musical support for
Warren's ultra-commercial ballad and beat offerings''. Given that kiss of death, sales were again negligable and with his contract at an end it was no surprise that Smith and Sun parted company. In later interviews, he contested that he always wanted to cut
country music but that Sam wasn't interested. Well, he had cut country, some of which was as good as any country music cut in the decade. From Sam's point of view, he was right to cut Smith as a rocker, his vocals were perfect for the genre. Sun wasn't amune
to releasing singles aimed squarely at the hillbilly market, Ernie Chaffin had had four singles in the same time-span, it's just that the rewards for a big pop hit far out-weighed the rewards for a country hit.
Following in the footsteps of buddy Johnny Cash, Smith packed the misses into the Caddie and headed west to California. He landed a deal with Warner Brothers and cut three low key singles (including a Xmas 45) under the name
Warren Baker. The new life had not started too well professionally, but socially they settled down quickly in Sherman Oaks, spending a lot of time with the Cash's. Cash offered him a slot on his package show, but was turned down, Warren Smith still had plans
and they didn't include playing second fiddle to anyone else. Whilst appearing at the Town Hall Party in Compton, CA, he was spotted by an executive of Liberty Records who were planning to launch a country division. Smith duly signed, becoming their first
country act and on March 9, 1960, entered the Radio Recorders studio at 7000 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. He had moved two thousand miles from Memphis, but the music had moved a million. The new sound was real country, fiddles a-plenty and stone country
vocals. With the top west coast pickers (Ralph Mooney, Johnny Western, Jim Pierce), they laid down three tracks from which Liberty 55248 was released. ''I Don't Believe I'll Fall In Love Today''/''Cave In'' was released late summertime and rose to number 5
in the country charts. With no Jerry Lee to disrupt his sales, Smith had the pleasure of seeing his next release ''Odds And Ends (Bits And Pieces)'', Liberty 55302, also reach the top ten, peaking at 7 early in 1961. Both hits had been written by country tunesmith,
Harlan Howard and Smith, never a prolific writer, ceased to write his own stuff.
Both artist and label must have been bubbling, and decided the next move was to cut an
album. The majority of the album was cut on 4th May at Radio Recorders with the same gang and with the two hits added was released as The First Country Collection Of Warren Smith. The playing's fine and the singing's great, it just lacks any sparkle. The same
can't be said of the next single, Liberty 55336, which coupled two excellent songs in a revisited ''Old Lonesome Feeling'' (written by Stan Kesler) and ''Call Of The Wild''. It was the b-side which took, eventually making the 26 spot. The follow up single
was a duet with Shirley Collie, George Jones' ''Why, Baby, Why'' which again stalled in the twenties (23).
Despite his career blooming, things were starting to come undone
as he became addicted to amphetamines (any Johnny Cash influence!!) and Smith failed to appear for a scheduled session with Collie. Willie Nelson took his place and also seemed to take husband Bill Coffie's place as well. With the first seeds of unreliable
being sown, his next single, cut in Nashville, was Bad News Gets Around (!) and despite a great reading it failed to chart. Same fate for the next single, ''160 lbs Of Hurt'' and its flip, ''Book Of Broken Hearts''. The next single was marvellous. The a-side
''That's Why I Sing In A Honky Tonk'', climbed to 25 in November 1963 and the b-side ''Big City Ways'' followed it to 41. This being despite the fact, that radio at first gave it the cold shoulder due to Smith's long, emphasised pronounciation of the first
sylable when describing his - country girl. I'll bet the boys back in Memphis enjoyed the moment.
In April 1964 he cut his final single for Liberty back in Hollywood.
''Blue Smoke'' is real 1960's country and justifiyably rose to 41 in the charts, a fine swan-song. The label didn't renew his contract, his life was being ruined by drugs and Liberty was doing okay without needing a risk artist. It's a shame because Smith's
vocals were in peak condition and his sound was sounding as fresh as anything being generated in Nashville.
On August 17, 1965 in LeGrange, Texas at 8am, Smith's 1965
Pontiac skidded off Highway 77, just missing another car before slamming into a steep embankment. He was rushed to Fayette Hospital with severe back injuries and facial lacerations. He was out of action for the best part of a year, having to learn to walk
A comeback of sorts was arranged with Slick Norris' Houston based label, Slick. She Likes Attention suffers from a poor vocal but Future X is a good track. Nothing came of the release, not surprising
as promotion/distribution must have been limited.
A single came out on Mercury, who now had Jerry Lee, but this time there was no competition. Smith's chart days were
over despite his health problems not affecting his voice as much. Now mixing drink with his drugs, Smith was now being arrested on a regular basis and ended up doing an eighteen month spell in a Huntsville, Alabama jail. His long-term marriage was over, but
on his return to civilisation, he met and married a new woman. Trying to restart his life, he got work as a Safety Director for Trinity Industries in Longview, Texas, only singing on stage at weekends. In the early 70's he cut a couple of low-budget, low-profile
singles for Jubal Records.
In 1976 he got an offer from Mike Cattin of the Carl Perkins Fan Club to record only his second album, for the Lake County record label. Due
to his work commitments the album had to be recorded on Sundays and started in December 1976 and was finished in June 1977. Smith was very disappointed with the results, the tracks ranging from remakes of Sun/Liberty songs to a few originals.
In April 1977, Warren Smith arrived in Britain to play a rockabilly show with Jack Scott, Charlie Feathers and Buddy Knox. Smith was completely overcome by the reception he received and
was invited back the following November with fellow Sun artist Ray Smith. Again, the shows went well and a rejuvenated Smith was scheduled to return in April.
this tour never materialised as on the last day of January 1981, Smith was admitted to hospital with chest pains. Before the day was over, he suffered a massive heart attack and died. He was 47.
How better to sum him up than a couple of quotes from Sam Phillips: In an interview with Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins; "He was probably the best pure singer for country music I've ever heard. He had a pure country voice and an innate feel
for the country ballad. With that music he was as good as anyone I've heard before or since. So Long I'm Gone was just a wonderful country record. He was a difficult personality, but just interesting enough that I liked him a whole lot''.
In an interview with Trevor Cajiao, talking about Sonny Burgess, Billy Lee Riley and Warren Smith; "..I should have followed through with Warren Smith too although he was much more of a
country-flavoured guy in a way. The guy had the ability to make it. That, I guess, in a way, I regret somethin' like that because these were people with unique abilities and I coulda' made 'em' even if there's such a thing as a little more unique. I was probably
a bit deficient in the fact that I didn't take a little more assistance and probably I coulda' pulled some of these guys, and done a little more with 'em. Those three guys I know had hit records in 'em''.
Shaun Mather, February 1999