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From the Land of Band Box Records

Colorado Lays Claim to Jazz Guitar Great Johnny Smith

Johnny (John Henry( Smith was born on June 25th, 1922 in Birmingham, Alabama.  His family made their way to the Portland, Maine during the Great Depression where he would take his first job, tuning guitars and teaching others guitar – while he was in his early teens!  Also as a teen he joined up with an uncle playing in his uncle’s hillbilly group “Uncle Lem and the Mountain Boys”.

He credits his nights at home listening to the sound of the big bands on the family radio as being his primary inspiration to go further with his music.

While in the military service (Army Air Corp) he had set his sights on becoming a pilot, but eye problems directed him to join the marching band – playing the clarinet!  From there it was onto the trumpet and then he finally focused on guitar.

Smith would work his way through a rich array of jazz exposures from jazz nightclubs to orchestral concert halls with full-fledged symphonies.  He fronted a trio called “The Playboys” during the early 1950’s.  He began recording extensively with Roost Records (or “Royal Roost) in 1953 and continued with the label into the 1960’s.

Smith composed the instrumental “Walk Don’t Run” in 1954 which was recorded then by Chet Atkins, well ahead of the 1960 pop hit version by The Ventures.  The instrumental charted in 1960 reaching number 2 and then hit the charts a second time as “Walk Don’t Run ’64”, this time reaching number 8!  The single was first released on an small independent label – Blue Horizon out of Seattle, Washington.

Atkins included the tracks on his 1957 LP “Chet Atkins In Hi-Fi”.

Smith was a technician as well as musician and in 1961 the Gibson Guitar company began offering it’s “Johnny Smith” model based on his many years of research and experimentation.  Smith broke off with Gibson in the late 1980’s turning to Heritage which adhered to his original design expectations.

COLORADO SPRINGS – A NEW HOME

Smith’s Colorado connection came via a personal tragedy.  His wife would die giving birth to his second child – a daughter.  Smith sent the child to his mother’s home in Colorado Springs in 1957 – where he would soon join her – giving up his career in New York City.

In the ‘Springs’, Smith continued with is musical career, providing lessons, running a music store and continuing to release new recordings for Royal Roost and Verve record companies.  Smith cherished his music career but loved his daughter more, and he didn’t regret moving out of New York City.

Smith was prone to dismissing his talent on guitar and often was not pleased with his recording results, and even went so far as to deny his classification as a “jazz” guitarist.  But his peers full hardheartedly disagreed placing him very high on the totem of great jazz players

After his move to Colorado, his touring nearly ceased with a few rare exceptions, but he would often appear in local Colorado Springs nightclubs and he was a regular at the Bandbox Lounge in Denver on East Colfax.

Johnny Smith died in the Springs on June 11th of 2013 at the age 90, as a result of an accidental fall.

Johnny Smith Selected Discography

I have chosen – for the most part – recordings released after Smith’s move to Colorado – with a few exceptions such as his premier hit “Moonlight In Vermont” released in 1953 – recorded in 1952 with Stan Getz (sax), Sanford Gold (piano), Eddie Safranski (bass) and Don Lamond (drums).

78 RPM – Royal Roost 547 – “Moonlight in Vermont” b/w “Tabu” – 1953

45 – Royal Roost 401 – “Satin Doll” b/w “Moonlight In Vermont” – 1956

45 – Royal Roost 547-X45 – Moonlight in Vermont b/w  Tabu

45 – Royal Roost 568-X45 – Jaguar b/w Tenderly

45 – Arrow 732 – “Imagination Part 1” b/w “Imagination Part 2” – 1958

45 – Royal Roost 701 – “My Dear Little Sweetheart” b/w “Once in a While” – 1960

45 – Elmor 300 – “On the Street Where You Live” b/w “Flip Top” – 1961

45 EP – Royal Roost EP 303 – Moonlight in Vermont/Tabu b/w A Ghost of A Chance/Where Or When – 1952

45 EP – Royal Roost EP 313 – Hello Young Lovers/Love Letters b/w Love For Sale/Goodbye

LP – Royal Roost 2201 – “Johnny Smith Plays Jimmy Van Neusen” – 1955 (Birdland Series)

LP – Royal Roost 2203 – “The Johnny Smith Quartet” – 1955

LP – Royal Roost 2206 – “Beverly Kenney Sings For Johnny Smith” – 1956

LP – Royal Roost 2211 – “Moonlight In Vermont” – 1956

LP – Royal Roost 2215 – “Moods Moods Moods” – 1956

LP – Royal Roost 2216 – “New Quartet” – 1956

LP – Royal Roost 2217 – “Ruth Price Sings” (with Johnny Smith) – 1956

LP – Royal Roost 2223 – “The Johnny Smith Foursome” – 1957

LP – Royal Roost 2228 – “Johnny Smith Foursome, Volume 2” – 1957

LP – Roulette 52016 – “Jeri Smith Meets Johnny Smith” – 1958

LP – Royal Roost 2231 – “Selections From The Flower Drum Song” – 1959

LP – Royal Roost 2228 – The Johnny Smith Foursome Volume II – 1959

LP – Royal Roost 2233 – “Easy Listening” – 1959

LP – Royal Roost 2237 – “Johnny Smith Favorites” – 1959

LP – Royal Roost 2238 – “Designed for You” – 1959

LP – Royal Roost 2239 – “My Dear Little Sweetheart” – 1960

LP – Royal Roost 2242 – “Guitar and Strings” – 1960

LP – Royal Roost 2243 – “Johnny Smith Plus The Trio” – 1960

LP – Royal Roost 2246 – “The Sound Of the Johnny Smith Guitar” – 1961

LP – Royal Roost 2248 – “The Man With the Blue Guitar” – 1962

LP – Columbia 8813 – “A Perfect Match” – 1963

LP – Royal Roost 2250 – “Johnny Smith Plays Jimmy Van Heusen” – 1963

LP – Royal Roost 2251 – “Moonlight In Vermont” – 1963

LP – Royal Roost 2254 – “The Guitar World of Johnny Smith” – 1964

LP – Royal Roost 2259 – “Reminiscing” – 1965

LP – Verve 8692 – “Johnny Smith”

LP – Verve 8737 – “Johnny Smith’s Kaleidoscope” – 1968

LP – Verve 8768 – “Phase II” – 1968

LP – Roulette 106 – “Echoes of An Era – The Johnny Smith – Stan Getz Years” – 1973

LP – Roulette – “Moonlight in Vermont” – 1988

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