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ARTHUR “GUITAR BOOGIE” SMITH (1921-2014)
It happens during the scene in which actor Ronnie Cox, portraying Drew Ballinger, engages in a banjo/guitar duet with a musically brilliant but eerie child in the Georgia backwoods. It sounds like they invent the tune on the spot, but in fact it had been written by a young textile worker and music teacher named Arthur Smith. He and Don Reno recorded it in 1955 as “Feudin’ Banjos.” In 1972, it achieved immortality as “Dueling Banjos”; recorded for the film by Steve Mandel and Eric Weissberg, it peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
Born in Clinton, S.C., Smith first won attention in 1945 when he wrote and recorded “Guitar Boogie,” a flashy instrumental that earned him his nickname and inspired aspiring pickers throughout the world – even in Liverpool, where Paul McCartney performed hit to pass his audition for the band that became the Beatles.
For many years, Smith performed with a variety of bands. He also became well known as a radio personality, making his debut on the air at age 20 and for 30 years hosting “Top of the Morning.” In the 1950s and 1960s, he hosted one of the first Country Music television shows to earn national syndication, “The Arthur Smith Show,” which claimed to air from the (non-existent) station WEE-TV in Happy Valley.
Smith died at home in Charlotte, N.C., two days after his 93rd birthday.
Arthur Smith playing “Guitar Boogie” live:
“Feudin’ Banjos” with Don Reno from 1955: