Johnny Smith Day

June 25, 1922 – June 11, 2013

 A birthday tribute to the classic jazz guitarist

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Guitarist Johnny Smith was born June 25, 1922 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Smith grew up in Portland, Maine where he taught himself how to play the guitar and, by the time he was 13, was teaching others.

He gained experience playing with the local hillbilly band Uncle Lem and the Mountain Boys in Maine as a teenager, dropping out of high school to work in music fulltime.

In 1940 Smith switched from country to jazz, joining the Airport Boys.

He served in the Air Force (teaching himself to play cornet for the military band) and, after his discharge, was a studio guitarist and arranger for NBC (1946-51 and on and off through 1958).

A versatile musician who had a beautiful sound and a chordal style, Johnny Smith recorded regularly as a leader for the Roost label in the 1950s, having a big hit with his version of “Moonlight In Vermont” (which also featured Stan Getz) in 1952.

Smith’s best known original was “Walk Don’t Run” which he wrote in 1954 and was a best-seller for the Ventures in 1960.

Johnny Smith settled in Colorado in 1958 where he ran a musical instruments store, recording up until 1968 (a set of unaccompanied solos from 1976 were his final recordings) but becoming very reluctant to leave town except for a 1977 tour with Bing Crosby.

Johnny Smith lived to be 90, passing away on June 11, 2013.

The guitarist was rarely filmed but he was featured on “What Are You Doing For The Rest Of Your Life” in Mobile, Alabama in 1984.

-Scott Yanow


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