It’s unusual for a musician to embrace his hit song to the extent that he even makes it part of his name. After all, it might serve to pave the way for becoming known as a “one-hit wonder”, normally something to be avoided. But when Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith realized he had a winner on his hands, he made it his signature tune.
When Smith got together with the Tennessee Ramblers in 1948, it probably didn’t occur to him that the song he was recording would become a big hit. And he certainly didn’t realize that it was an important – some say seminal – event in the beginnings of rock and roll. It was just one of lots of instrumental pieces he’d written through the years, but it had a driving, irresistible beat that foreshadowed a revolution in pop music.
Before he became a rock and roll pioneer, Smith was an influence in early radio, in management and as a performer, with musical talents that stretched to dixieland, gospel, and Western swing. He not only played the guitar, but also the fiddle and the banjo. (In fact, he later teamed up with Don Reno to write “Feudin’ Banjos”, the tune that was made famous as “Duelin’ Banjos” in the 1972 film Deliverance. As it turned out, producers had used the song without permission. Smith sued and won.)
His “Guitar Boogie” sold nearly three million copies – an enormous number for that era – and helped propel him to a long and successful career that included his own TV show. He wrote over 500 songs, including another Top Ten hit, “Boomerang”, and also supplied songs to many other singers. (One was Willie Nelson, who has been known to write a song or two himself.) Smith was also very active in producing records, and for many years had a professional sound studio that was used by the likes of Johnny Cash and James Brown.
Over the years, “Guitar Boogie” was recorded in various versions by many musicians, including immensely talented artists like Les Paul and Al Caiola, but the version that again stuck gold appeared in 1959. Frank Virtue and the Virtuoso Trio (later renamed The Virtues) recorded a new version, calling it “Guitar Boogie Shuffle”. Virtue was a talented musician who saw an opportunity in the song, and his vibrant electric guitar backed by the trio gave it a sound closer to what the kids were rocking to at the time. It became a hit all over again, solidifying its place in rock and roll history.
Arthur Smith – “Guitar Boogie”
The Virtues – “Guitar Boogie Shuffle”