Carl Smith, the smooth country baritone who recorded a lengthy run of hits for Columbia Records in the ’50s, died Saturday in Franklin, TN, the Nashville Tennessean reported. He was 82. No cause of death was given.
The handsome, elegantly togged “Country Gentleman” made an impression with decorous honky tonk numbers that buffed most of the rough edges off his early tour mate Hank Williams’ sound. Some of his later singles reflected a strong Western swing influence.
From 1952-57, Smith was married to June Carter of the Carter Family; vocalist Carlene Carter is their daughter.
Born March 15, 1927, in Maynardville, TN, Smith began singing on Knoxville station WROL when he was still in high school. After returning from Navy service, he returned to the station as a bassist for Archie Campbell (later of the TV show “Hee Haw”).
A publishing scout from Nashville brought the young singer to the attention of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, and in 1950, after signing with Columbia, he began appearing on the weekly Opry shows broadcast on Music City’s WSM.
His No. 1 chart entries included “Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way,” “Are You Teasing Me,” “Hey Joe!” and “Loose Talk.” Many of Smith’s hits were penned by Boudleaux Bryant, one of Nashville’s best commercial songsmiths. His top-flight band included drummer Buddy Harman, later a key “A-Team” session player.
He was also active as a music publisher, founding Cedarwood/Driftwood Music, a major Nashville pubbery, in 1954.
Smith retired from the Opry in 1956. After splitting with Carter (who married Johnny Cash in 1968), he married singer Goldie Hill, who cut several top 20 hits for Decca in the ’50s. Hill died in 2005.
By the late ’50s, country listeners’ tastes began to leave Smith behind. He remained with Columbia until 1973, when he signed with the small Hickory diskery. He retired from music in 1977 to raise horses on his farm outside Nashville, though he returned to the studio for Gusto in 1983.
Smith was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003.