Even though his career stretches back for over half a century, Carl Smith is probably not one of the most remembered singing stars from country music’s honky-tonk era — but his ordinary-sounding name might be part of the problem. After all, a moniker like Faron Young or Ferlin Husky tends to be a little more memorable. But Carl Smith’s long life has been anything but ordinary, and it includes everything from an early marriage to the future Mrs. Johnny Cash to a musical career complete with dozens of Top-Ten hits.
The Tennessee-born singer grew up immersed in country music, with local music legend Roy Acuff one of his inspirations. A self-taught guitarist and singer, Smith worked his way up via the radio route and was eventually able to land some regular spots on the Grand Ole Opry. By 1950 he’d managed to snag a recording contract, and it was the beginning of a decade-long hot streak that would include songs like “Kisses Don’t Die,” “There She Goes,” and “Loose Talk,” along with one of my favorites, the lively “Hey Joe!“.
In 1952, Smith married into country music’s iconic first family, the Carters. Maybelle’s daughter June was a young and rising singer who incorporated a lot of comedy into her act, and she and Carl often played off each other on stage. When you watch a video from those days you can scarcely believe that she’s the same lady who years later would appear alongside Johnny Cash — and be portrayed by Reese Witherspoon in the film, Walk The Line.
June and Carl’s marriage only lasted a few years. (Their daughter would later have some performing success too, taking advantage of her mother’s family name by appearing as Carlene Carter.) After their split, June would go on to tour with Elvis Presley and — of course — later pair up with Johnny Cash. Carl would marry singer Goldie Hill, a union that lasted until her death in 2005.
Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, Mr. Country (as he was called by then) gradually moved closer to a Western Swing style, and he continued to find some success, selling a lot of records even if he seldom dented the Top-Ten. However, he also branched out into other areas, including TV — not only on musical shows, but also in the occasional acting role.
Mostly retired for the last couple of decades, Carl Smith is enjoying life on his horse farm in rural Tennessee. He can look back on a long, successful career in country music — and he is still remembered.