#392: That’s All Right by Ray Smith
Ray Smith was born in 1934 in the hamlet of Melber, Kentucky, thirteen miles from the town of Paducah where the Ohio River and the Tennessee River meet. Smith was the seventh son of a sharecropper who, in turn, was also the seventh son in Smith’s grandfather’s family. His dad later worked at the atomic bomb plant in Paducah. Smith left his home at the age of twelve. He worked as a gopher on a Coca-Cola Truck and then operated an oven at Kirchoff’s Bread plant in Paducah. As he grew up Ray Smith worked as a curb hop at Price’s Barbecue at 34th and Broadway where he would serve U.S. (KY) Senator Alben W. Barkley, who later became President Harry Truman’s Vice-President. Next he worked as a sole back tacker and tack machine operator at the International Shoe Company.
Smith was in basic training in 1952 after joining the US Air Force at Sampson Air Force Base in Syracuse, New York. He sang the Hank Williams song “Lovesick Blues”, at his sergeant’s command, while in his shorts and shower clogs. His rendition got him entered in the army base’s talent show where he won first prize. From that day on he took an interest in music. He taught himself to play harmonica, guitar and piano.
Smith was transferred to George Air Force Base in Victorville, California. In the nearby town of Barstow he I got his my first paying gig on Friday and Saturday nights at a performer at Nora’s Desert Inn. He was paid $12.50 a night. In 1956 Smith formed Ray Smith and the Rock and Roll Boys with Smith playing bass and rhythm guitar. They did one night concerts and travelled across the lower 48 states. Ray Smith also got a TV show for two and one half years on WPSD, channel six, in Paducah, KY. It was called The Ray Smith Show. The sponsor of the show was Beardsley Chevrolet based in Bardwell, Kentucky, thirty miles southwest of Paducah.
As a result of this exposure, before Smith turned 20 years old, he recorded his first single in 1958 on Sun Record. The single was called “So Young“. With its release Ray Smith appeared on the Dick Clark Show at the Little Theatre in New York City. His appearance resulted in offers to guest star on other TV shows including American Bandstand. Smith also got signed to a month-long contract with Channel seven in Evansville, Indiana, to host his own show on Saturday afternoons for one month. Smith also got radio appearances with DJs in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Peterborough, Ontario.
Smith’s second single on Sun Records, “Rockin Bandit” didn’t chart. Smith’s third single ended up being a double-sided hit in Vancouver on the Judd label. The A-side was “That’s All Right”.
“That’s All Right” was cowritten by Fred Burch and Gerald Nelson. Burch wrote “PT-109”, a hit for Jimmy Dean in 1962, “Strange” for Patsy Cline, and “Dream On Little Dreamer” for Perry Como, Rick Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, “Tragedy” – a number-two hit for Thomas Wayne in 1959, and a Top Ten hit for the Fleetwoods in 1961.
Gerald Hiett Nelson was born in Paducah, Kentucky. He formed a gospel group with three other classmates called the Melody Makers, who then became the Jubilaires. Finding gospel music was not lucrative, Nelson and his group collaborated with a harmony group called the Four Winds. In 1956 they got a break and a recording contract with RCA. Now billed as the Country Gentlemen, they recorded “A Rose And A Baby Ruth” written by John D. Loudermilk. But DJs thought they foursome were a hillbilly band, so they didn’t get a spin on either this or one subsequent release. They also recorded “A Rose And A Baby Ruth” as backing singers for George Hamilton IV. RCA had the group change their name in 1957 to the Escorts. The Escorts won the talent contest on the Arthur Godfrey Show, and got signed to a small label called OJ Records. As the Escorts they released four singles, and a fifth – “Tragedy” was unreleased. Burch and Nelson also wrote songs for Johnny Preston, Ral Donner, Elvis Presley, Dorsey Burnette, Johnny Burnette and Brenda Lee. Gerald Nelson separately wrote songs recorded by Stevie Wonder, Ferlin Husky, the Casuals and Duane Eddy.
In “That’s All Right” the woman who is on the singers’ mind is not interested in holding his hand, kissing him, or teaching him how to get her excited. However, the singer is certain one day she’s going to “change [her] mind.” He invites her to come to make love like two honey bees in a “honey tree.”
“That’s All Right” peaked at #4 in Vancouver (BC) and #11 in Portland (OR).
As “That’s All Right” started to descend down the record survey the B-side, “Rockin’ Little Angel”, took off on the C-FUN Hi-Fi Forty peaking at #15. “Put Your Arms Around Me Honey” was Smiths fourth 45 RPM disc release and his fourth charted song on the Vancouver pop charts. In each of these songs Ray Smith’s vocals had a strong resemblance to the cadence and inflection of Elvis Presley. His final appearance on the pop charts in Vancouver was with “Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes” at the end of 1960.
After recording with the Sun and Judd labels, Smith went on to record for a string of record companies between 1962 and 1966: Infinity, Vee Jay, Warner Brothers, Smash, Tollie, Celebrity Circle, Diamond. But none of the seven singles he released between 1961 and 1967 got much notice. Songs like “Candy Doll”, cowritten by Fred Burch, were as catchy as many other tunes on the radio. But Ray Smith’s new labels didn’t give him the promotion his releases required.
Smith continued to tour and recorded songs like the boogie-woogie tune “Room Full of Roses” in 1978. It became a hit in Europe. By the 70s Ray Smith had moved from the USA to Ontario, Canada. When he practiced at home he was playing a piano he won from Ronnie Hawkins on a coin toss for free. Smith was as good on the piano as Jerry Lee Lewis and seemed to be in line for solid touring with a revival of interest in late 50s and early 60s rock ‘n roll. Sadly, Ray Smith died by suicide in November 1979.
November 6, 2020
Narvel Felts Reflects on Ray Smith, Rockabilly Hall of Fame.com
Ray Smith bio, Rockabilly.nl
“Ray Smith,” Discogs.com.
“Gerald Nelson: Writing and Arrangement,” Discogs.com.
“Fred Burch: Writing and Arrangement,” Discogs.com.
“C-FUN HI-FI FORTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, December 26, 1959.
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