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Interview and pictures provided by
Mary Margaret Johnson and Brian Brasher of Hernando, MS.
Ronald Smith was born in the Ozarks at home in Leslie, Arkansas, Oct. 4, 1937. He resided and grew up between Leslie, New York City, and Memphis, TN. Being of Irish and Cherokee heritage, his family either played or sang songs that were old and always new to him. While in Leslie, a year or two after World War II, a tobacco salesman from the north stopped at the drug store, set up a TV monitor on the counter, then ran cables outside to his panelled truck, and played a film of Merle Travis playing and singing "So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed, That's My Gal", advertising Lucky Strike cigarettes, coming from the Hollywood Barn Dance. This new technology was very impressive to Ronald, and was overshadowed by Travis' playing.
Moving to Memphis permanently, shortly after, his uncle bought him a guitar from a shop on Beale Street to keep him more at home and away from neighborhood poker games. Later Ronald sold it to Ed Bruce (Edwin then), who lived up the street and threw papers together. Afterwards, they played music and sang. Ed played a ukulele at the time. However, they mostly played pin ball machines along their paper route.
At 14, Ronald played well enough to be included in Ishmael Lee Strom's band, playing portions of the live radio shows in West Memphis, Ak., along with other groups that included Howling Wolf. During this time, he had met Elvis Presley at their friend Pattie Philpot's birthday party. They spent time, for the most part, playing and singing at the back door, later playing for various functions around Memphis together. Elvis drove a late 30's Lincoln Zepher, that seemed to never have enough gas in the tank. Of course, when it ran out, they had to get out and push.
Ronald had answered a note posted on a bulletin board in a small cafe named Blue Haven, located at the end of the runway at Memphis' old airport. Eddie Bond left the note wanting a band. Eddie had just gotten out of the navy. The first week-end only Eddie and Ronald played. Three close friends of Ronald's, also musicians, came in and when the beer tray was being passed around, they grabbed the change in it because it was a fun thing to do. Ronald thought so, also.
Ronald contacted musician friends in his neighborhood to play in the band, including two of the three beer tray bandits, and Elvis, as they had already played before. Elvis had an usher's job at Lowe's State Theatre, and Ronald ushered at Warner Brother's Theatre at the time. They usually met after work at the Gridiron Restaurant across from the Peabody Hotel early in the morning. The bass/drummer named the band "The Stompers". The band played nightclubs, hotels, radio stations, schools, and dances in and around Memphis.
Ronald was asked by various musicians who wrote songs to play on their demonstration records that they would send to popular country and western artists over in Nashville, TN., with the possibility that they might record them. These were done at Memphis Recording Service, that later became Sun Recording Studio. A few had success as did Frank Bartucci from New Jersey (also known as Black Bart in Hollywood, CA.) with the popular Bill Carlisle of the Grand Ole Opry.
When called, in the mid 50's, and not a musician union member, Ronald would skip school when the session took place during the week, and Mr. Phillips would issue a union member's name and pay the union scale of $8.00 to Ronald by check. he technology then was then the two track master recorder, and the sessions lasted hours before accepted. Usually the second take would turn out the best. Then later at Phillips Recording Studio after it was built, the same applied. Some were successful as was Ernie Barton's "Stairway to Nowhere". Years later at Sun Recording Studio after it was re-opened for sessions, with Jason and Allison Bruce from Cambridge, England.
When Meteor Records was being established by Les Bihari, Ronald and musician friend Kenneth Herman wired up his recording equipment for him. They enjoyed his thoughtfulness of hamburgers and cokes for doing such. They both played on some of the early Meteor recordings. These records are now re-issued by Ace Records in England. Ronald played on "Curtis Lee and the Other Three" (later of Las Vegas, NV.), and Mason Dixon and the Redskins.
As studios began to emerge after the Sun Studio's success, Ronald played on sessions at Hi Studio, Sonic, Pepper and Tanner, American Studio under Bill Glore, Select-O-Hits, Feathers label with Charlie Feathers on "One Black Rat" among others.
Ronald has given interviews for film documentaries to Ted Turner Productions, Michael Rose Productions, Mallibu Productions. and more. He also been interviewed by book authors such as Peter Guralnick, Robert Ferguson, Rose Clayton, Blue Suede News magazine, and Mr. Hawkins, historian for Ace Records, among others.
Ronald played in various bands since he was 14 years of age that included Eddie Bond and the Stompers, Barbara Pittman, Sun Connection Band, Lash Larue's Western Swing Band, Curtis Lee and the Other Three, Harky Harkshaw, David Houston, Bobby Lord, Harold Morrison, Wilma Burgess, Jean Shepherd, Kathy Lee Houston, Jimmy Payne's Show Band, Paul Burlison, Sun Rhythm Section, Tommy Tucker, Prince Gabe, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Feathers and various others.
Ronald recently did recording sessions in Jonesboro AK. and Branson, MO. He has lived in the Graceland subdivision of Whitehaven, TN. since 1958.
Special thanks to Burl Boykin
Page Posted November, 2010 -- ©Rockabilly Hall of Fame®